Cal’s Season Ends: Bears outclassed by WSU 69-52 in Pac-12 tourney opener

photo by Cal Bears basketball

By Morris Phillips

Three wins and a 16-game losing streak to end the season will be the legacy of the 2023 Cal men’s basketball team.

The Bears fell 69-52 in Las Vegas in their opening round matchup against Washington State on Wednesday afternoon, ending a dreary season that marks the program’s unprecedented, sixth consecutive losing campaign.

The immediate focus falls on head coach Mark Fox, who is responsible for the most recent four seasons, none better than his first when Cal finished 14-18.

“We understand that there’s an expectation to be successful, and we didn’t do that this year, but most people who are sitting where you’re sitting now are never on the inside. They don’t know the things that we have to deal with that adminstrators and coaches and players do,” Fox said.

The expectation is that Fox will not be retained, and athletic director Jim Knowlton will move on to Tim Miles or Joe Pasternack, the two names most prominent in the coaching rumors.

The Bears didn’t receive any break in the matchups with WSU coming in on a six-game win streak. The Cougars didn’t shoot it well early, but Cal afforded them a 13-2 run before halftime, part of a 35-21 edge at the break.

The Bears again played at their plodding pace, a nod to their persistent injury issues in the backcourt. Their point total of 52 actually fell below their season average of 58.5, the lowest offensive output in 363-member Division I.

Monty Bowser led Cal with a career-best 19 points, but the 43-29 edge for WSU on the glass put the 12th-seeded Bears at an impossible disadvantage.

TJ Bamba led Washington State with 17 points, and three other WSU starters finished with 10 points. The Cougars will face Oregon on Thursday in the tournament’s quarterfinal round.

Cal Competes: Regular season concludes with painful 69-66 loss at Oregon State

By Morris Phillips

Cal’s 15 consecutive losses haven’t often been competitive or engaging. That wasn’t the case on Saturday in Corvallis, where the Bears built a substantial lead that held up throughout the game’s first 27 minutes.

The Bears led by as many as 16 points and took their final lead with 29 seconds remaining. But the visitors came up empty on their final, two possessions in a 69-66 loss to Oregon State.

“A heartbreaking loss,” Cal coach Mark Fox said. “I feel awful for everybody because they did everything we asked them to do.”

Oregon State snapped a four-game losing streak but had to dig deep to prevail. The Beavers trailed 32-16 late in the first half.

“It was all Cal,” coach Wayne Tinkle said. “They were focused, and I think they knocked us back and caused a little cloudiness early.”

The loss mattered little in regards to Cal’s seeding for the conference tournament that begins Wednesday in Las Vegas. The Bears will open the tournament against Arizona State or red-hot Washington State as the 12th seed.

The game was physical throughout and whistle-filled. That allowed the hosts to recover with 24 of 29 shooting from the foul line that brought them even with 13 minutes remaining. The game became a see-saw affair at that point, with both teams afforded opportunities to seize control. Oregon State’s biggest lead of 64-61 with 2:03 remaining was immediately wiped out as Cal scored five of the next six points, capped by Grant Newell’s jumper with 29 seconds left.

Michael Rataj scored to put OSU in front with 15 seconds left, and Cal saw the same game lost as Sam Alajiki stepped out of bounds with nine seconds remaining and Joel Brown, who led Cal with 22 points, missed a wild 3-pointer at the final buzzer.

Glenn Taylor Jr. paced OSU with 28 points, and Jordan Pope added 17.

Cal falls to Washington State 63-57 but remains optimistic in the season’s final days

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–A streak-ending win on Senior Night wasn’t achievable for the Cal Bears.

But that wasn’t the punchline to season-concluding joke. The 3-26 hosts competed hard until seven minutes remained before they ran out of gas in a 63-57 loss to Washington State.

“Obviously, we didn’t get the win, but we made a lot of strides, and going forward we’ve got two games next week,” senior Joel Brown said. “I think there’s a lot of energy and positivity that we can grab from this.”

Cal fell for the 13th consecutive time since January 6 and need a win in their final, three games to avoid setting a new, program-worst season record.

Two regular season games remain at Oregon and Oregon State and an opening round contest in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. Optimism within the team remains with hopes they can win at least once more.

“For the whole team it’s a tough situation with the record, but I’ve learned a lot just looking myself in the mirror and just understanding, I’m playing basketball . . . this is what I love doing,” Brown said.

When asked if he had any discussions regarding his future with Cal, coach Mark Fox said he had not, while saying he and Athletic Director Jim Knowlton speak frequently, and Fox considers Knowlton to be an ally.

Fox fell to 38-84 in his four seasons in Berkeley, and it’s widely assumed he won’t be retained.

The Bears trailed 29-26 at halftime and were within 46-44 with 7:24 remaining when they could get no closer. A 7-0 run for the Cougars created separation and put the visitors in position for a fifth straight win.

Mohamed Gueye led WSU with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and TJ Bamba added 19. Brown led Cal with 13 points, nine rebounds, and Kuany Kuany added 11.

Plodding Bears can’t shoot it or hold on to it in 65-56 loss to Washington

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Can’t shoot straight or pass accurately? You’re in trouble, especially in the Pac-12 Conference, where opposing defenses feed off that level of disfunction.

The Cal Bears started competitively for a change and kept within range for 35 minutes, but 31 percent shooting and 15 turnovers weren’t going to cut it against visiting Washington.

Cal fell to UW, 65-56, their 12th straight loss since they last won against Stanford on January 6.

One of the confounding aspects of Cal’s worst-ever season (along with the fact that they likely won’t win five games, which is hard to do when they, like all Power 5 schools, have a stranglehold on how they schedule, and who they play) is they continue to compile high turnover numbers despite playing at one of the slowest paces in 363-member Division I.

It makes sense that Cal plays slow. They’ve been decimated by injuries at the ball handling positions and again played without guard DeJuan Clayton on Thursday.

It doesn’t make sense that they regularly register double-figure turnovers at this stage of the season. But Pac-12 opponents sense Cal’s lack of organization and hunt the basketball as much as they successfully keep the Bears from scoring.

Again, on Thursday, the formula worked.

“We kept the score, the pace of the game where we wanted it,” coach Mark Fox said. “(It’s) just unfortunate that we didn’t make more shots.”

The Bears also missed seven free throws and fell behind by 18 points at one juncture. That preceded a 15-3 run that brought them within 52-46. But Cal would get no closer. The Huskies responded with a pair of free throws and a Keion Brooks Jr. dunk to push their lead back to ten.

“They’re at home. They’re fighting, but our guys, at the end of the day, found a way to win,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “We made some foul shots down the stretch and got the stops we needed.”

Brooks led UW with a game-best 24 points and 11 rebounds.

“They came out and fought hard,” Brooks said of Cal. “They were physical. We knew they were going to do that. Those are the type of games that you get up for because you know it’s going to be a little back and forth. But credit to them, we got up big and they didn’t go away.”

The Bears’ final home came comes on Saturday at 2:00pm against Washington State at Haas Pavilion.

UCLA Overwhelms Cal 78-43: Bears’ losing skid hits 11

By Morris Phillips

UCLA coach Mick Cronin made his point at halftime of the Bruins’ game versus Stanford on Thursday: respect the opponent and be ready from the opening tap.

It was a message Cronin didn’t have to repeat prior to or during the Bruins meeting with Cal on Saturday.

Instead, the hyper alert Bruins displayed their readiness by holding the visiting Bears to 15 points before halftime. That’s the fewest a Cronin-coached UCLA team has allowed in any half of a game.

Message delivered by the Bruins and received by the downtrodden visiting Bears.

“They’re great defensively,” coach Mark Fox admitted. “You have to give them credit.”

Cal trailed by 23 points at the break, and their 22 percent shooting for the game gave them no chance for a recovery. The Bears have dropped 11 consecutive games since beating Stanford on January 6.

Were there any surprises in Saturday’s matchup between the nation’s number two ranked defense and the painfully-slow, 296th ranked offense? Well, maybe how few minutes were afforded hyped-up UCLA walk-on Russell Stong, who didn’t make his entrance until fewer than two minutes remained.

UCLA (23-4, 14-2) led by Jamie Jaquez Jr. with 20 points and Amari Bailey with 16. The Bruins continued their cruise to their anticipated showdown with Arizona in two weeks by winning their 23 consecutive game at Pauley Pavilion.

The Bears, led by Kuany Kuany’s 14 points, did themselves no favors by starting the game with a 12-0 deficit after trailing 13-0 at USC on Thursday.

The Bears (3-24, 2-14) return to Berkeley next week for their final, two home games against Washington and Washington State.

Stuck In L.A. Traffic: Cal starts slow, runs out of gas in 97-60 loss to USC

By Morris Phillips

The baskets at USC’s Galen Center aren’t usually this big or forgiving.

But the circumstances were aligned on Thursday night as the Trojans were desperate to boost their NCAA Tournament aspirations at the expense of frustrated Cal riding a nine-game losing streak. The hosts took full advantage by shooting 58 percent from the floor in a 97-60 rout of the defenseless Bears.

“We weren’t ready to play defensively,” coach Mark Fox said. “I was certainly disappointed in that.”

Cal fell behind 13-0, trailed 50-23 at the break, and were behind by as many as 40 in the second half. USC poured it on with four double-digit scorers led by Drew Peterson with 30 points.

The Bears might have made do with 60 points scored, which is robust for them, but not with 15 turnovers and allowing the opposition to hit 12 3-pointers. Combined with the painful, slow start, Fox was adamant that his team get the message in order to gain consistency and competitiveness in the long run.

“We have to own our mistakes,” Fox said. “We have to learn from it. We have to grow.”

Cal (3-23, 2-12) was led by Monte Bowser with 13 points. ND Okafor and Kuany Kuany each contributed 11 points. The Bears continue their swing through Los Angeles on Saturday night at UCLA.

Several Pac-12 teams have NCAA Tournament hopes and know that a loss to Cal would be incredibly damaging to their resumes. Cal will get similar treatment from Oregon in two weeks in Berkeley, which makes it more difficult for them to sneak up on a lackadaisical opponent. Beating UCLA, which is hopeful for a No. 1 seed in the West Region could be just as difficult.

How daunting are Cal’s circumstances this weekend? USC is riding a 13-game win streak at the Galen Center after winning Thursday, and UCLA has won all 13 of their games this season at Pauley Pavilion.

Underwhelming In Overtime: Cal’s spirited effort short-circuits late in 70-62 loss to ASU

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Foul trouble and poor shooting didn’t doom the Cal Bears, but the fatigue they carried into overtime certainly did.

Arizona State picked it up in the extra, five minutes, and escaped with a critical, 70-62 road win. The Sun Devils, who went from ice cold during a lengthy stretch in the second half to red hot in overtime, made it work with their incredible effort on the glass.

Coach Mark Fox felt the ASU rebounding was the deciding factor in what was otherwise a statistically even ballgame.

“I felt like defensively they were terrific,” Fox said of his Bears. “We just didn’t rebound it well. Gave up 20 offensive rebounds, and that’s probably the difference in the game.”

The visitors snagged 56 rebounds, a total they hadn’t reached since February 1996 in Pac-12 competition. That big advantage helped them survive 33 percent shooting and a stretch where they made just one of their 20 shots.

Reserves Grant Newell and Monty Bowser kept Cal in it with 14 points a piece, but foul trouble ultimately wore the hosts down as starters Lars Thiemann and Kuany Kuany played limited minutes.

“We don’t have any depth, and everyone knows we don’t have any depth,” Fox said. “Tonight, it showed in the overtime. We wore down a bit.”

Desmond Cambridge led ASU with 24 points, and DJ Horne added 12. As productive as they were spoaradic, those two typified the Sun Devils’ ragged play with 21 missed shots between them. But in the end, the visitors kept their NCAA Tournament aspirations alive with an unlikely Bay Area sweep.

“I don’t know if I want to be in a close game with (Cal) because we could get tight, just thinking about their record. I don’t think that happened. Our guys were pretty clutch down the stretch,” ASU coach Bob Hurley said.

The Bears have dropped nine straight and played in front of another small, disappointing crowd at Haas Pavilion. Given that, a trip to Los Angeles to face USC and UCLA might be the best medicine for Cal after their 22nd loss of the season.

Bears Bow Quietly: Cal dumped by Arizona 85-62 at Haas Pavilion

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–A quiet evening inside Haas Pavilion resulted in a 13th consecutive loss to Arizona, a clear sign that things aren’t right within the Cal basketball program.

But they did display enough resolve to avoid a fifth, consecutive game with fewer than 50 points. They didn’t, however, come up with enough resistance for Arizona’s Oumar Ballo and Azoulas Tubelis, who ruled the paint and scored at will.

“We started poorly and dug ourselves our hole,” coach Mark Fox said. “We just weren’t big enough, physical enough to get some things done in there.”

The Bears missed their first seven shot attempts and faced an early double-digit deficit before settling in and competing. But that just got the hosts to halftime, trailing 42-30.

At that juncture, the Wildcats took off, leading by as much as 25 points and cruising to their 22nd win of the season.

Tubelis led the visitors with 23 points, 14 rebounds, and Ballo contributed 14 points, nine rebounds giving the Cats a decisive, 46-30 edge on the glass.

Cal again operated with a guard-deficient starting lineup without the injured Devin Askew. That placed 6’9″, Kuany Kuany in Cal’s starting backcourt but his presence did little to disrupt the Arizona pace and nationally heralded, transition attack.

Arizona finished with 50 percent shooting from the floor and 11 made threes as they slightly outpaced their conference-leading 83 points per game.

Cal was led by Sam Alajiki with 12 points and Lars Thiemann with 10. The Bears have dropped eight straight contests and are in the midst of a fifth 20-game losing season in the last six.

The biggest negative within the Cal program may have been the game’s attendance with the announced crowd at 3,289.

Cal Bears podcast with Michael Duca: Cal trying to prevent their 22nd loss tonight against Arizona; Team reportedly flying commercial not charter

Cal Bears guard Joel Brown shoes in hand heads for the tarmac and boards a plane at Salt Lake City after playing the Utah Utes on Sun Feb 5, 2023 (@CalMBBall photo)

On Cal Bears podcast with Michael Duca:

#1 Sitting on 19 losses and inevitably headed toward an undesired historical 20th loss, the Cal Bears started Sunday needing to fess up to one fair conclusion. Is a big part of the reason Cal is not focusing is because they’ve been flying commercial rather charter as reported?

#2 Cal Bears currently not talented enough to compete in the Pac 12 with or without injuries, with or without USC and UCLA or any number of other considerations.

#3 It’s not a good look, and a trip to Utah’s Huntsman Center certainly didn’t change that. The Bears fared no better in a dreary 61-46 loss to the Utes that leaves them as the only program to suffer three consecutive 20-loss seasons in Pac-12 history.

#4 Cal trailed at halftime and then went the first six-plus minutes of the second half without a made basket. That allowed the hosts to extend their lead to as many as 20 points and cruise in beating the Bears for a fifth, consecutive time dating back to 2021.

#5 Cal (3-20, 2-10) fell to 0-8 in true road games and are fortunate to have their next two games at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley with Arizona up first on Thursday evening.

Join Michael Duca for the Cal Bears basketball podcasts Thursdays and Morris Phillips does all game recaps at

Bears Hibernation Continues: Cal runs into a mountain in 61-46 loss at Utah

By Morris Phillips

Sitting on 19 losses and inevitably headed toward an undesired historical 20th loss, the Cal Bears started Sunday needing to fess up to one fair conclusion.

They’re currently not talented enough to compete in the Pac-12… with or without injuries, with or without USC and UCLA or any number of other considerations.

It’s not a good look, and a trip to Utah’s Huntsman Center certainly didn’t change that. The Bears fared no better in a dreary 61-46 loss to the Utes that leaves them as the only program to suffer three consecutive 20-loss seasons in Pac-12 history.

Cal trailed at halftime and then went the first six-plus minutes of the second half without a made basket. That allowed the hosts to extend their lead to as many as 20 points and cruise in beating the Bears for a fifth, consecutive time dating back to 2021.

“We had a very poor start to the second half for sure,” coach Mark Fox said. “You’ve got to be able to make some plays. Offensively, we just don’t have enough playmaking on the floor.”

Without leading scorer Devin Askew and experienced scorer DeJuan Clayton, who was absent due to an undisclosed illness, the Bears scored fewer than 50 points for the fourth straight game. The Bears played at their familiar, plodding pace but again had issues with turnovers, committing ten. Fox admitted the pace was what he wanted, but the lack of shotmaking sabotaged their effort.

“Until we can get somebody back we’re going to have to try to be elite defensively,” Fox said.

Lars Thiemann led Cal with 12 points, and Kuany Kuany added 11. Starting point guard Joel Brown failed to be a bigger factor, playing just 24 minutes with two shot attempts and one assist.

Utah guard Lazar Stefanovic led the Utes with 15 points, six assists and three of his teammates also finished with double-digit scoring. Utah wasn’t much better shooting the ball than Cal at 37 percent from the floor, but they got nine made threes from four of their starting quintet.

Cal (3-20, 2-10) fell to 0-8 in true road games and are fortunate to have their next two games at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley with Arizona up first on Thursday evening.