By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, CA–A high-scoring game is the last thing the Cal Bears want to be involved in.
Unless, you’re a Cal fan and ticket holder, then your attitude is probably why not?
The Bears’ rebuilding process that landed them in the Pac-12 basement in 2018 and 2019 has them traversing the bottom tier of Division I point-producers in 2020. Coming into Cal’s home game against Arizona State on Sunday, the Bears ranked 335th (out of 350) in scoring offense averaging a bare bones 62.2 points per game.
With the notable exceptions of defending National Champion Virginia (ranked 347th) and NCAA-worthy Wisconsin (302), it’s the bottom of a list teams would rather avoid. Littered with struggling squads across Division I, it’s a place where anxiety abounds. Players doubt their abilities, coaches like Shaka Smart of Texas (325) find themselves on the hot seat, and ticket holders check out faster than they check in.
For Cal, hosting red-hot ASU, averaging 77 points a game over a four-game win streak that has the Sun Devils dreaming of the NCAA Tournament, seemed like more bad news in a season that’s already been trying enough.
But it wasn’t. The Bears battled Arizona State into the final minute in a 80-75 loss that turned on a late ASU surge and the brillance of Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year candidate Remy Martin.
Martin had 22 points–15 in the second half–as ASU built an eight-point lead with three minutes remaining and held on to win for the seventh time in eight games. The Bears shot 48 percent in the second half–and scored nine points in the final 45 seconds–to make it a close shave, and a watchable, competitive affair.
“Sometimes in defeats you play well but we didn’t win, which is what we came here to do,” coach Mark Fox admitted.
Martin, the senior from Los Angeles, and arguably college basketball’s most prominent Filipino-American player, has scored in double figures in all 12 conference games. In nine of those, including Sunday, he’s scored at least 20.
“He hits the deep 3, he hit the shot off one leg and stopped, just really high level of difficulty shots but he get so much attention from defenses it’s really never easy for him to score too often,” coach Bobby Hurley said of Martin. “He continues to surprise me, the things I see him do out there.”
The Sun Devils achieved a conference road sweep for the first time in a decade with the win. ASU also beat Stanford 74-69 on Thursday. The rare, but also quirky, occurrence happens rarely, just not normally only once a decade. This season in the Pac-12, only ASU and Arizona (both occurrences this weekend) have accomplished the feat.
“I know its been talked about quite a bit but it’s not really a thing for me,” Hurley said of ASU’s first sweep since January 2010 over the Oregon schools. “It’s more where we stand right now, just can ill afford to lose, and got to keep it rolling the way we’ve been.”
Matt Bradley led Cal with 20 of his 22 points after halftime. Grant Anticevich added 18 points, eight rebounds and Paris Austin had 17. The Bears (10-15, 4-8) have lost seven of nine since sweeping the Washington schools, but remain in a tight grouping of five schools, placed seventh through 11th, for seeding in the upcoming conference tournament.
Cal visits Pullman, Washington and Washington State on Thursday night.