Arizona Uber Alles: No. 3 Wildcats rude guests in runaway, 96-71 win

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Cal fans showed up, and Coach Mark Fox left early. Talk about both being out of character.

No. 3 Arizona has a way of leaving opponents, and others, twisted. The Wildcats are that good, that devastating, reference their wire-to-wire, 96-71 win on Sunday afternoon at Haas Pavilion.

“If you look at the completeness of their team with multiple bigs, terrific shooting, an outstanding wing, depth, they are playing like the best team,” Fox admitted. “Their margins of victory.. like today was obviously big, but that’s what it’s been. They’ve been dominant.”

Arizona (16-1,6-0) hit the gas so quickly, skid marks could be seen near the Haas entry ways. They led 17-3, 34-16 and 46-26 a minute after Fox lost his composure, drawing a second technical and an ejection. Cal’s Jordan Shepherd missed his first seven shots, and the Bears misfired on five attempts from distance, part of 7 for 30 shooting to start that left them in a big hole.

“It’s what you hope for on the road, that you come out and from start to finish your team is solid and they execute the plan,” first-year Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “We did a really good job of dictating what they were doing on the offensive end, and then on our end of the floor getting into our movement.”

Talent? The Wildcats have it abundance. Their top eight scorers–with Bennedict Mathurin (17.3 ppg) leading, and Pelle Larsson (6.4) trailing–are all capable of big scoring nights, when needed, on demand. Against Cal, Mathurin struggled (3 of 9 from the floor) as Christian Koloko took over the paint (19 points, 13 rebounds) in the absence of 6′ 11″ Azoulas Tubelis, Arizona’s second leading scorer. Larsson got a turn in the starting lineup and was impressive on both ends. He finished with nine points and two assists in 21 minutes.

Cal’s shrewd plan to get Shepherd going from the perimeter first to then provide space for Andre Kelly and opportunities for Grant Anticevich was immediately foiled. Arizona’s length at the guard spots and quick feet defensively bothered Cal like 16 Wildcats opponents were bothered before.

With assistant Chris Harriman directing the club, the Bears benefitted from Arizona’s careless ball handling to open the second half, but the visitors’ transition game kicked in and Cal trailed 66-40 with 12:56 remaining.

Shepherd led Cal (9-10, 2-6) with 21 points, rebounding from his scoreless start. Kelly and Makale Foreman added eight points each.

The Bears have dropped five straight, three straight at home, with three, tough road games to follow. The Bears have yet to win a road game this season, losing all four to date.

UCLA looms as Cal’s next opponent on Thursday, the Bears’ opportunity to display all the wisdom gleaned from a 60-52 loss on January 8 in Berkeley. The problem is the No. 9 Bruins aren’t coming off a three-week break due to COVID this time, and are unlikely to start sluggishly playing at home.

WE STAYED. COACH YOU HAVE TO STAY TOO: All season, coach Mark Fox has wanted to combine his team’s hustle and flow with an intimidating, loud Haas Pavilion atmosphere. COVID has disrupted his plans, from the canceled and rescheduled games to the stringent vaccination requirements for fans in the building.

Sunday’s gathering of 7,582 represented a breakthrough for attendance this season, despite the hastily arranged gametime layered on top of some pretty, compelling nationally-televised NFL games. But when the game turned lopsided soon after it began, the fans never got a chance to make their presence felt.

Fox had his hand on the proceedings, but he let the referees get involved contrary to the coach’s better judgment.

“My frustration wasn’t just about tonight. My frustration was (about) some things that built up to it,” he said. “The official decided, like in third grade, to instigate a staring contest and, like in third grade, I took the bait and got my second technical and put our team in a tough spot.”

Fox picked up his initial technical two minutes before the second. Afterwards, he framed his actions as positive, saying “if I have to lead the fight, sign me up.”

Others might say his actions weren’t a sign of leadership. Regardless of how his actions were perceived, he’s got two bigger issues, only one that enhances his future in Berkeley: he’s maintained team unity and focus under the most trying of circumstances, but Fox has not reached the baseline for recruiting in a conference driven by talent as much as exemplary coaching.

Rough Road: Cal comes up short after halftime again, loses 65-57 at WSU

By Morris Phillips

The road trip that causes the most headaches in the Pac-12 starts in Seattle on a Thursday and leaves you feeling unsettled in Pullman, Washington on Saturday afternoon.

Bad weather, rough flight, slick roads and a quirky opponent in a mostly empty arena throw you off balance, and likely the Washington Huskies shook your confidence as well. Conference ballclubs aren’t at their best after going through the Northwest curveball machine.

The Bears were the latest testees who survived the first half, but finally slipped late in the second, losing 65-57 to Washington State. Cal was swept for the second weekend in a row and had issues trying to score in all four losses. On Saturday, coach Mark Fox was disappointed with the team’s rebounding, and not limiting the Cougars’ opportunities.

“I think it’s the third game in a row on the road where we had the lead at the half and we talked about trying to close it and finish it, and we just didn’t defensive rebound,” Cal coach Mark Fox said. “We forced some misses, we gave up a rebound on free throw that cost us three.”

The back breaking sequence came with 2:52 and WSU’s Michael Flowers at the foul line shooting one-and-one. Flowers missed the first one but WSU rebounded and swung the ball to Flowers for an open three that he buried, extending the lead to five.

“We just didn’t do the right things to close the game in the second half,” Fox said.

Cal scored just 10 points after Andre Kelly got them even at 47 with 9:19 remaining. Flowers contributed 11 of his 13 points in the second half, and Andrej Jakimovski paced the Cougars with 18 points.

In seven of Cal’s nine losses–and three of the last four games–they’ve scored 60 points or fewer.

Cal starting guard Joel Brown attempted to fly from the East Bay to Pullman on Saturday morning after he cleared COVID restrictions that left him home isolation for seven days. Brown arrived after the game started and played just one minute when it became apparent he couldn’t ramp it up after a week without physical activity or basketball.

“You just take a roll of the dice and say, ‘Is it going to be like he can just step in here and we keep rolling?'” Fox said. “And you can tell he wasn’t ready and out of synch and understandably so.”

Shepherd led Cal with 17 points, Kelly had 12 and a season-best 14 rebounds.

The Bears return home to Haas Pavilion to face No. 6 Arizona on January 23 at noon.

Huskies Find Clear Sledding: Washington’s big run carries them past Cal, 64-55

By Morris Phillips

No, Alaska Airlines Arena wasn’t the place to find a pair of polished products on Wednesday night, but for either Washington or Cal, making a noticeable step in that direction was a reasonable goal.

Put together 40 minutes of cohesive basketball, find bursts of offense from a defensive-minded group, and beat a vulnerable opponent on the road?

Apparently, the Bears aren’t quite ready to do that just yet.

Washington rode a late, 15-0 run, largely fueled by referee whistles that didn’t favor Cal, to a 64-55 win, proving the hosts are closer to competency within the challenging Pac-12 landscape.

“Our defense wasn’t as good,” coach Mark Fox said of the decisive second half that saw Cal outscored 37-21. “We turned the ball over another eight times in the second half. And we couldn’t score.”

The Bears didn’t start well either. They missed eight of their first 12 shots, and committed seven turnovers in the first 12 minutes. The Huskies better navigated the early minutes with a balanced attack that only needed two points from leading scorer Terrell Brown Jr. A steal and breakaway dunk from Daejon Davis put UW up 21-13 at the 8:09 mark.

Cal was without starting point guard Joel Brown who was not with the team, and left back in Berkeley with an undisclosed illness. Jarred Hyder started in Brown’s place. Sparkplug Sam Alajiki returned after missing the previous, two games, and Kuany Kuany returned to the starting lineup after playing in reserve against UCLA. Fox called Kuany’s one-game demotion a teaching moment.

Aided by reserves Alajiki, Jared Celestine and Lars Thiemann, the Bears found their groove in the final minutes of the half. A 10-1 run gave them the lead, and they didn’t stop there. The visitors built a seven-point, halftime lead, and briefly led by nine to open the second half.

At that point Brown turned it up a notch, and brought the crowd’s energy with him. The Seattle native responded with 18 of his 21 points after the break, apparently the result of his coaches and teammates getting him in the right frame of mind during earlier timeouts.

“Everybody kept giving me confidence,” Brown said. “Coach Hop told me to play basketball. They’re going to junk it up, but you can junk it up too and find different areas to attack. It was just me playing free.”

Cal clung to a lead until eight minutes remained, but the 15-0 run wiped them out, leaving them in a 62-51 disadvantage with 3:37 left. Within the run, Kuany drew a flagrant foul call for having his arms horizontal, not vertical, after securing a rebound, but contacting P.J. Fuller’s face trying to avoid being stripped. That led to a pair of made free throws, and possession for Washington. They maxed that with Brown’s flashy spin and jumpshot that left Kuany flailing and the crowd howling with pleasure.

“His feet kind of just left him and I’m watching the ball go up in the air and I see it rolling around and I’m like, ‘that’s going in.'” Davis said of Brown and Kuany’s viral moment.

The Bears managed just one more made basket in the final minutes–from Shepherd with 16 seconds left–and never really made noise. The ending seemed surreal because the Bears disappeared so completely.

Cal attempted just five free throws, a season low, and leading scorer Andre Kelly took seven shots and was limited to four points.

“There were some guys in uncomfortable positions,” Fox said. “That’s the hand we’re dealt right now. We’re going to have to figure out how to play without a couple guys.”

Cal concludes their Northwest swing in Pullman against a talented, high-scoring Washington State team on Saturday at 1:00pm.

No Margin For Error: No. 5 UCLA too stingy for Cal’s tastes, Bears fall 60-52

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Coach Mark Fox stalked the sidelines, pestered the refs, incited the Haas Pavilion crowd, and as always, had the full attention of his team, but in the end, Fox had to tip his cap.

Visiting UCLA just brought too much to the table.

In a defensive struggle, the No. 5 Bruins simply were too stingy, and wore Cal down in their 60-52 victory.

“There’s no shame in laying it out there against the best teams and falling short. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure,” Fox said. “We failed today, but these kids competed in a way that I was really pleased with.”

The Bears had success defensively, limiting UCLA to 60 points and a horrible night shooting from three (4 for 18), but in the game’s waning moments Cal’s resolve lessened and a pair of Bruins were left wide open to hit back-breaking, 3-pointers. Johnny Juzang’s three put UCLA up 55-43 with 3:28 remaining.

And how did Cal’s big effort defensively come to such an unsightly finish? Probably the result of climbing uphill all night, trailing for the game’s final 23 minutes, and realizing UCLA’s defense, which forced 15 turnovers, wasn’t going to relent.

“We’ve got to stop other teams from scoring,” UCLA’s Cody Riley said. “When we come out, we’re not always going to make shots. We can’t rely on making shots. It’s the defensive side where we win the ballgame.”

Riley’s presence in the paint was a welcome sight for his teammates, who fashioned an unlikely trip to the Final Four last spring without him due to injuries. With him, Cal was made to suffer as two of their top three scorers, Grant Anticevich and Jordan Shepherd, were harassed into horrible shooting nights. The attention paid to Anticevich and Shepherd allowed Andre Kelly the space to make 11 of his 14 shots, but a one-man show isn’t the precursor to an upset. For the most part, Cal was denied entry into the lane, and their 1 for 14 shooting from three did little to compensate for their lack of easier baskets.

“I knew that we were going to take Cal’s best shot because I know what Mark Fox is made of and I know how upset he was with their defense Thursday,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “They gave up 50 points in the paint (versus USC). They were minus-38 in points in the paint. I can only imagine their film session and their practice yesterday. So we told our guys it was going to be World War III. We were probably going to have to grind it out. We do a good job at taking care of the ball. We’re top 10 in the country in that. It gives us a chance. Eventually we knocked down some shots.”

Tyger Campbell, the orchestrator of UCLA’s attack finished with 17 points, four assists. Jaime Jaquez, Jr. contributed 14, and Riley added 9. Juzang missed seven of his 10 shots, but buried the big 3-pointer late to make his 3 for 10 shooting more impactful.

Trojans Brought Their Horse: Undefeated USC stops Cal’s streak at Haas, wins 77-63

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–That rust enveloping the USC Trojans–built up over nearly three weeks following their last game on December 18–dissipated rather quickly.

The Cal Bears, hoping to catch USC out of sync, soon found themselves being dismantled by the visitors, with each, successive possession and after timeouts. Conceding too many opportunities on the glass, and bleeding points in the paint, the Bears were worn down in their first home defeat, losing 77-63.

“They’re good, and we have to play better to beat a great team,” coach Mark Fox admitted.

Cal started fast, holding their own in an uptempo start that saw the lead exchanged nine times in the first ten minutes. But it soon became apparent that the surprisingly disciplined Trojans were stout as advertised. First, USC showed unexpected proficiency at the foul line, converting 11 of their 13 attempts. Then the visitors controlled the glass (39-24 rebounding edge) and attacked the basket relentlessly (50-14 edge in points in the paint). Cal aided USC by shooting just 41 percent from the floor for the game, and sprinkling in some glaring, empty possessions.

“We felt like we gave the game away,” said Grant Anticevich, who led Cal with 19 points. “Credit to USC. They are a top-10 team for a reason. But we just made too many mistakes.”

“Once we started defending at a higher level, we took the lead,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Our defense in the second half was outstanding.”

Isaiah Mobley led the Trojans with 19 points, and Drew Peterson added 17. Boogie Ellis, the transfer guard from Memphis, had 14.

Jordan Shepherd scored 17 points, and Andre Kelly came up with 13 points, 11 rebounds, but the Bears got almost no secondary help. Starters Kuany Kuany and Joel Brown were factors defensively, but failed to make a shot from the floor, far less than what was needed to aid Cal’s upset bid. Jalen Celestine scored 10 points off the bench but could have played a bigger factor were it not a couple of questionable decisions with the ball in his hands.

Cal trimmed their deficit to 54-50 with 9:20 remaining only to see the Trojans surge again and regain their double-digit advantage. What started on the defensive end incorporated high percentage shooting as USC shot 64 percent after halftime.

“We made some positive plays,” Fox said. “We just didn’t threaten enough in the second half.”

MISSING MATT?: In an interesting comparison, the Cal transfer that has many saying “what if?” Matt Bradley has already seen USC this season. Bradley opted to forgo his stature as Cal’s go-to guy, transferred to San Diego State, and his Aztecs faced the Trojans in the Paycom Wooden Legacy Championship Game in Anaheim on November 26.

It didn’t go well for Bradley.

The Trojans’ length and singular focus on getting Bradley stopped, paid off as the 6’3″ guard was limited to three points in 25 minutes on the floor. Bradley shot 1 for 7, including 0 for 4 from three.

Bedeviled in Berkeley: Arizona State sees their mastery of Cal end in a 74-50 defeat at Haas Pavilion

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Arizona State figured to be stuck in traffic dealing with the nationally-ranked Bruins and Trojans in Los Angeles this weekend. Instead, the Sun Devils surfaced in serene, socially distanced Haas Pavilion and got their forks handed to them in an very unceremonious manner by the Cal Bears.

Oh, the irony? Yes, the irony.

The suddenly ascendant Bears put together their best 40 minutes of basketball this season, and throttled ASU, 74-50, bringing an end to the Sun Devils’ seven-game win streak in the series between the schools.

“We did defend well, we did play very well on offense, and we did rebound it pretty well,” coach Mark Fox said. “So we did a lot a really good things and it’s a complete performance for us, but not as complete as it could have been. But you know what, our team competed well and I was really proud of them for that.”

Competitive? Complete performance? Suddenly the Bears–undefeated at home, and miraculously avoiding the pitfalls of COVID protocols–aren’t the club picked to finish last in the Pac-12. Instead they’re credible defensively, and meticulously prepared. Arizona State found out right away as Cal zoomed to a 41-23 halftime lead fueled by a 7-0 advantage in made 3-pointers. Fox hated that his Bears squandered some free throw opportunities early, missing five of their first seven, but the disparity beyond the arc was undeniable.

“It was the difference in the ballgame,” Fox said.

Cal suffered some hiccups in the first five minutes of the second half, but took off again after that, maintaining their big lead and unleashing some new weapons in the process.

Lars Thiemann, literally Cal’s biggest project, showed out by hanging near the rim and making himself available for easy shot attempts. The seven-footer routinely fumbled as many passes as he caught previously. But hard work has paid off. Fox spoke of the hours Thiemann has put in, not to mention the reminders the Cal coaching staff provided during breaks in Sunday’s game. Thiemann came up with all seven of his points in the second half, allowing Cal to ultimately pad their lead, while giving them a clear, size advantage on the smallish Sun Devils.

Sam Alajiki, who previously wowed the Bears coaching staff with his defensive presence, also contributed to the Bears’ hot stretch. Alajiki entered the game, and immediately canned a three, stretching Cal’s lead to 52-33 with 11:45 remaining.

The Bears were led by Jordan Shepherd with 16 points, Andre Kelly added 13, and Grant Anticevich had 10 points, 10 rebounds. Arizona State got 17 points from sophomore D.J. Horn, but no other ASU player tallied more than nine as their horrible 32 percent shooting from the floor doomed the visitors from the start.

“We know it’s not one guy who’s going to do it all for us,” Kelly said. “If one guy is not necessarily having his best night then we have a good deep team so a lot of people can step up and make good plays,” Kelly said. 

Cal shot 51 percent from the floor and outrebounded ASU 38-32. The Bears stayed undefeated at home, and improved to 9-5, 2-1 in the Pac-12 with the win. And now the Bears get their shot at the top ten Southern California schools both of whom have been impacted by COVID and will visit Berkeley during a compacted schedule of three games in five days.

“We need four times the number of people to show up,” Fox said while acknowledging the 2,974 fans that showed up Sunday, including the coach’s wife and daughter who were pressed into duty as staffers to aid the hastily arranged home game.

Cal hosts USC on Thursday at 8pm, and UCLA on Saturday at 5pm at Haas Pavilion.

Stanford Cardinal podcast with Daniel Dullum: Stanford matches up against a hot UCLA offense Thursday; Bruins have won 8 of last 9

Stanford Cardinal forward Spencer Jones (14) the leading scorer against the Liberty Flames seen here in file photo. Jones had 25 points at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu on Thu Dec 23, 2021 (photo file by Stanford Athletics Dept)

On the Stanford Cardinal podcast with Daniel:

#1 Daniel, the Stanford Cardinal (8-4) playing their last game on Thu Dec 23 at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu get a long lay off. Their game this coming Sun Jan 2 postponed due to Covid 19 protocols with their next game scheduled for Thu Jan 6 at UCLA (8-1).

#2 Daniel, talk about the long lay off is that an advantage for Stanford getting rest between games or a disadvantage becoming rusty and not seeing competitive action?

#3 The Cardinal have been playing great ball they have won five of their last seven games and getting great offensive support from Spencer Jones who scored 25 points in his last game against the Liberty Flames (8-5) on Thu Dec 23 in Honolulu. He was critical because the Cardinal won by just three points.

#4 Daniel, Jones has been passed the ball quite a bit which shows that the Cardinal have confidence in what he can do with it and pretty much lean on Jones to finish the job in front of the basket.

#5 Stanford faces the Bruins (8-1) Thu Jan 6 and the Bruins have lost only one game this season and that was to Gonzaga getting crushed by 20 points 83-63. Otherwise the Bruins have owned everyone else they’ve faced who do you like in Thursday’s game?

Join Daniel for the Stanford Cardinal podcasts each Friday at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

Stanford postpones game with Cal due to COVID protocol

Stanford University announces the game between the Stanford Cardinal and Cal Bears has been postponed and will be rescheduled (image Stanford Cardinal Athletics Dept)

By Daniel Dullum
Thursday, December 30, 2021

Stanford University Athletics announced Thursday that the Cardinal’s men’s basketball game against California, scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 2, has been postponed due to “health and safety protocols within the Stanford program.”

No other details are available.

In a statement, the Pac-12 Conference said it will work with Stanford and Cal to reschedule the game for a later date.

Stanford has not played since the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic tournament in Honolulu on Dec. 23, where the Cardinal’s championship game against Vanderbilt was cancelled two days later due to COVID-19 protocol. Since then, team activities were put on hold.

Stanford Athletics said all tickets purchased for the game at Maples Pavilion vs. Cal originally scheduled for Jan. 2 will be honored for the rescheduled date, once finalized. Ticket purchasers should contact the Stanford Athletics ticked office via email at athleticstickets@stanford.edu.

The Cardinal are 8-4 overall and 1-1 in the Pac-12. Their next games are scheduled at home for Jan. 6 against No. 5 UCLA and Jan. 8 against No. 7 USC.

The Golden Bears are 8-5 overall, and 1-1 in league play. Cal will still be playing a Pac-12 game on Sunday, when they host Arizona State at 4 p.m. at Haas Pavilion.

Cal Bears basketball podcast with Michael Duca: Cal now on a four game win streak; It’s the Big Game at Stanford next on Sunday

The Cal Bears Grant Anticevich (15) led with 25 points against the Pacific Tigers on Wednesday at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley (photo by Cal Athletics Dept)

On the Cal Bears basketball podcast with Michael:

#1 Michael when this season began no one would have predicted that the Cal Bears (8-5) would be three games over .500. The oddsmakers had the Bears nearly 12th from last place in the nation at the start of the season.

#2 Cal picked up their eighth win on Wednesday afternoon and it was not even close as they clobbered the Pacific Tigers (5-9) 73-53 a 20 point win and a huge contribution from Cal leading scorer Grant Anticevich with 25 points.

#3 Head coach Mark Fox has to be excited with Cal’s offense last night the Bears had four players in double figures and he’s got players like Anticevich, Justine Celestine, Andre Kelly, and Jordan Shepherd going on all cylinders right now.

#4 Michael, if you had to point to one or maybe two things that have accelerated offense that improved this team as they are on a current four game win streak.

#5 The Bears head to Palo Alto and on the hill at Maples Pavilion to face their cross bay rivals the Stanford Cardinal Sun Dec 26 at 4:00pm. The Cardinal have been doing well in their own right winning six of their last nine games. Their latest win came on Wednesday night against Wyoming 66-63 and they take on Liberty at noon today. Tell us how you see Cal and Stanford matching up on Sunday?

Michael does the Cal Bears basketball podcasts each Thursday at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

Stanford Cardinal basketball podcast with Daniel Dullum: Stanford looks to pick up second straight win against Liberty in Diamond Head Classic

The Stanford Cardinal Jaiden Delaire (11) led the Cardinal with 17 points on Wed Dec 22, 2021 against the Wyoming Cowboys in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu (file photo Stanford Cardinal)

On the Stanford Cardinal podcast:

#1 The Stanford Cardinal’s (7-4) Jaiden Delaire 17 points and Spencer Jones 15 points were a huge help as the Cardinal just got by the Wyoming Cowboys (9-2) at Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu on Wednesday afternoon 66-63.

#2 Wyoming got 25 points with 11 rebounds from Graham Ike who led in scoring teammates Hunter Maldonado had 18 points and Xavier DuSell finished third in scoring with 13 a great effort but Wyoming falls three points short and faces Northern Iowa in the consolation tournament.

#3 Wyoming had the ball with 8.1 seconds left in the game but couldn’t convert two three point attempts to try and at least tie up the ball game. Stanford comes away with a three point win and have now won six of their last nine games.

#4 Jones and Michael O’Connell were key for Cardinal scoring combining for 11 points in Stanford’s final 14 points of the game.

#5 Stanford battles the Liberty Flames (8-4) who have won seven of their last eight games. Liberty got a win today against Northern Iowa (4-6) 75-74 on Wednesday in a razor close game. Liberty had four players in double figures in the win. Daniel talk about how you see this match up in Honolulu between Stanford and Liberty with a 12 pm PST tip today.

Join Daniel for the Stanford Cardinal basketball podcasts at http://www.sportsradioservice.com