Confident Cal makes it two in a row, dumps WSU

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, Calif. — It’s never too late to reinvent yourselves. In fact, doing so prior to the Pac-12 tournament might be a stroke of genius.

The Cal Bears made it two straight wins–after 16 losses–by putting the clamps on Washington State Saturday at Haas Pavilion, 76-69. The resurgent Bears now have the opportunity to enter the conference tournament on a roll, pending their regular season-ending clash at Stanford on Thursday.

“We’re going to keep it rolling,” said Justice Sueing, one of four Cal starters to score in double figures. “We got a lot of momentum, and we’re going to continue to stick together no matter what. Like I said, we’ve been through a rough patch, we finally got over it as Darius said. We’re going to keep moving and see where it can take us.”

During the losing streak, Cal’s defense was never credible enough for 40 minutes to win at the Pac-12 level. On Thursday, when they pulled the major upset of conference-leading Washington, the Bears shot their way to victory with 51 percent shooting from the floor. But on Saturday, the Bears were credible at both ends with balanced scoring offensively while forcing the Cougars into a season-high 20 turnovers defensively.

“It felt like any time that they made a run or a got it within under 10 to make us a little nervous, it felt like we made a defensive play,” coach Wyking Jones said. “Us having 13  steals and forcing 20 turnovers is what saved us tonight. It’s what got us the win. Thirty points off the turnovers was the key tonight.”

While the turnovers made the game seem ragged for stretches, it all transpired with the Bears leading, and, at least at key points, them showing patience while methodically wearing down the visitors. When the jump shots weren’t falling, the Bears got to the basket where the Cougars’ defense was especially vulnerable.

Darius McNeill led Cal in that regard with a team-best 17 points, and only three of those from beyond the arc. Instead, McNeill got to the basket where WSU was without key contributors Carter Skaggs, Viont’e Daniels and Jeff Pollard, all scratched due to concussion protocol. The WSU defens was especially vulnerable early as the Bears built their first double-digit lead with 7:19 remaining before halftime.

“When I saw my first 3 wasn’t falling I decided to get to the rim and do whatever I can to help the team win,” McNeill said. “That’s what I was doing.”

Still McNeill could be pigeonholed. With WSU on a run, the shooting guard came up with a big three with 5:46 remaining that kept Cal in control, leading 65-56.

Paris Austin and Connor Vanover were Cal’s other starters to score in double figures. Matt Bradley and Juwan Harris-Dyson had nine each, and both were instrumental in slowing Robert Franks, WSU’s top scorer. Frank’s finished with 18 points but missed nine of his 15 shots.

The Bears travel to Palo Alto for the regular-season finale on Thursday at 8 pm.

Coaches On The Floor: OSU too smart in crunch time for winless Cal

By Morris Phillips

Ethan Thompson may be just a sophomore in accordance with his NCAA status, but on Saturday afternoon with the game on the line, the wily point guard was Oregon State’s professor emeritus.

With OSU clinging to a 73-71 lead with less than two minutes remaining, Thompson drove on Cal’s Darius McNeill and drew a foul. The two made free throws increased the Beavers’ lead to four. After Cal’s Matt Bradley missed a three, OSU’s Kylor Kelley rebounded his own miss and scored to give the Beavers an insurmountable six-point lead.

Seconds later, Thompson capped the scoring with two more free throws. In all, the son of OSU assistant coach Stevie Thompson scored eight of Oregon State’s final 13 points.

“We put the ball in his hands primarily this year,” head coach Wayne Tinkle said of Thompson. “We know that he can erupt and score for us when we need it. He’s a great playmaker because he’s got great vision.”

The coach-player connection drove OSU on Saturday, less than 48 hours after OSU was embarrassed in 23-point, home loss to Stanford. Tres Tinkle, the head coach’s son, along with Thompson and his older brother, Stevie Jr. combined for 60 of OSU’s 79 points.

The juxtaposition of OSU’s lineage and experience against Cal’s inexperience didn’t play well for the Bears. Cal allowed 54 percent shooting to OSU, along with committing too many fouls (the Beavers converted 23 of 28 from the stripe set up by 22 Cal fouls) which negated a pretty good shooting afternoon for Cal (49 percent).

The Bears lost for the 12th consecutive time, and are closing in on an unprecedented, second straight 20-loss season. Still, coach Wyking Jones was quick to acknowledge his team’s effort.

“I thought our guys fought, scrapped, clawed, left it all out on the court and played really, really hard and played together,” Jones said.

Cal had several bright spots offensively including McNeill, who scored 14 of his 16 points before halftime. Justice Sueing put up 14 of his 16 after the half, and Connor Vanover had 15 in a career-high 30 minutes on the floor.

Vanover especially is emerging as a factor for the Bears at both ends.

“He’s always been very good offensively. Now he’s starting to figure it out and do some things defensively that are really helping us, changing shots, blocking shots. He was a bright spot today,” Jones said.

The Bears have a short turnaround, facing UCLA on Wednesday night in Berkeley. The Bears are hopeful they’re catching the Bruins at the right time as UCLA was beaten by a Utah 3-pointer at the final buzzer after they blew a 20-point lead in the game’s final six minutes on Saturday.

Practice So You Can Preach: UCLA shows off new, high-octane look in 98-83 blitz of Cal

By Morris Phillips

The latest meeting of Bears and Bruins at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday afternoon gained its origins in practice. That in accordance with the UCLA players, the Cal non-starters and both head coaches.

The familiar, starting group for the Cal Bears was an ominous omission from the philosophy, and that storyline goes a long way in explaining UCLA’s 98-83 win in which they shot 53 percent from the floor, posted a season-high in points, and methodically ran away from the Bears after halftime.

Coach Wyking Jones elected to bench his entire starting lineup in attempt to shake things up and spur his Bears to avoid a tenth, consecutive road loss in Pac-12 conference play. The reasoning, whether brutally spot-on or partially contrived had its roots in how the Bears have been preparing and practicing.

“Guys think that their starting positions are something that is given to them,” Jones explained. “I wanted to do something different. The guys that started have been working hard and giving us great things in practice, and we decided to go with that lineup.”

The shakeup actually involved just three players: guard Darius McNeill and the frontcourt tandem of Andre Kelly and Justice Sueing. Starting point guard Paris Austin was a late scratch after he was injured in practice on Friday. And swingman Juwan Harris-Dyson, most frequently used as a reserve, started Thursday and Saturday.

Meanwhile, UCLA practiced twice a day and visited the weight room daily, all a convenience (if you will) afforded the Bruins because they’re currently on winter break and aren’t attending classes. Interim coach Murry Bartow cooked up the scheme as his introduction as Steve Alford’s replacement, as well as the precursor to the Bruins playing faster, and maximizing their edges in athleticism and depth.

“Now we’re working as hard as we possibly can, which we weren’t doing before,” UCLA freshman Jules Bernard admitted.

Cal’s disjointed lineup and UCLA’s renewed commitment led to a predictable result as the Bruins became the eighth (of 14) Bears’ opponent to shoot at least 51 percent from the field, and the seventh to win as a result. The Bears did a whole lot of good too, getting big efforts from McNeill and Sueing, who each sat briefly only to play the entirety of the remainder of the game.

The Bears came up big in the passing lanes, registering 17 steals and adding four blocked shots. But that was partially negated by 18 Cal turnovers.

But the fast UCLA pace irritated the Bears, especially at the end of both halves when the Bears flatlined and allowed the Bruins to race to a bigger lead. Six Bruins scored in double figures and the 95 points were a season-high for UCLA, 48 hours after they posted 92 points on Stanford.

“The ball is moving and everybody touches the ball, we all get better. That’s what we want as a team,” said David Singleton, who contributed 14 points off the bench. “We don’t want to look good individually because anybody can do that. We want to look good as a unit and as a team.”

The Bears return home Wednesday for a meeting with Arizona State, before tackling Arizona on Saturday.

SOPHOMORE BRYCE TURNER, 19, PASSES AWAY IN LOS ANGELES HOSPITAL: Cal football player Bryce Turner, who played in one game this season, died Saturday, the school announced.

Turner suffered an undisclosed medical event during a workout on December 30 near his Southern California home.

“Bryce was a young man with a bright future and a valued member of our football team and the Cal family. His life was taken far too soon, and he will be deeply missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bryce’s family, friends, teammates and coaches during this difficult time, and we will do all that we can to support each other, his family, our students and the entire Cal community through the grieving process,” said Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton.

 

Balanced Bears good early and dominating late in 78-66 win over Santa Clara

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY — After an eight-win season, the Cal Bears needed to get better, and they did that, with Coach Wyking Jones welcoming freshmen Matt Bradley and Andre Kelly.

But an influx in talent doesn’t always mesh, and new mouths to feed means old mouths can occasionally go hungry. So with Santa Clara breathing down Cal’s collective necks in the final minutes of Monday’s 78-66 victory for the Bears, Jones witnessed a selfless act from one of his leading, returning scorers, Darius McNeill.

“I told him to check in to the game for Matt, and Matt scored three buckets in a row, and he said, ‘Coach, just keep him in the game.  Just keep him in the game.’ And for me, that’s a step in the right direction as far as him being able to sacrifice his own personal stats, minutes, whatever you want to call it, and say ‘You know what coach, it’s about the team, it’s not about me.’ So that’s what we’ve been preaching, and that’s what culture is all about.”

With Bradley scoring 13 of his team-best 15 points in the final 6:33 of the ballgame, the Bears pulled away, winning for the second time this season. Five Bears finished double figures, led by Bradley and Juhwan Harris-Dyson, who put up his 15 points on seven of eight shooting.

“It comes in those guys trusting each other and having each other’s back,” Jones said. “Just being able to withstand them cutting it to one and still being able to make plays and make a run and get stops when we needed it.”

The Bears played like strangers in Shanghai, losing their season opener in China to Yale by 17 points, and compiling no assists in the first 20 minutes while shooting a frigid 20 percent. After a bounce back win over Hampton, and the cancellation of the Detroit Mercy game due to the Butte County fires, Cal was awful defensively in losses to St. John’s and Temple in Brooklyn. But on Monday, the defense was credible, and the offense had diversity and purpose.

Cal jumped out to a 14-0 lead, holding the Broncos scoreless for nearly eight minutes. Nine steals at the break, and 13 for the game, showed that the Cal defensive intensity was present, as was Santa Clara’s propensity to cough it up. But with Kelly and point guard Paris Austin spearheading the impressive start, and Bradley playing the role of the closer, it mattered little that holdovers McNeill and Justice Sueing missed 10 of their combined 15 shots, while McNeill was limited by foul trouble.

Harris-Dyson came off the bench and shut down Santa Clara’s Tahj Eaddy, while being the beneficiary of some nice setups from his teammates on the offensive end. Dyson hadn’t contributed as much offensively since his February breakout against Stanford with 13 points.

The Bears led by 12 at the half, only to see Santa Clara shoot 56 percent after the break and cut the Cal lead to 53-52 with 7:03 remaining. But the Broncos collapsed at that point, allowing the Bears to get to the rim repeatedly in a 19-6 run that pushed their lead to 14 with 1:33 remaining.

“Cal did a great job of taking us out of what we wanted to do,” said SCU coach Herb Sendek. “But, perhaps no stat was more significant for us than our 22 turnovers.”

Cal (2-3) visits St. Mary’s on Saturday in a rematch of last year’s renewal of the East Bay rivalry at Haas Pavilion. The Bears didn’t fare well in that one, losing to a veteran Gaels team that would be invited to the NIT. This one could be more competitive as both schools welcome a bunch of new faces to the matchup.

Bears nearly craft an upset over St. John’s at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, lose 82-79

By Morris Phillips

The Bears, with their cast of unheralded underclassmen, appeared to be quite a match for St. John’s and pre-season Big East Player of the Year Shamorie Ponds on Monday in Brooklyn.

At least for 37 of the game’s 40 minutes they were. That’s when the hometown hero took over.

The Red Storm overcame a late, seven point deficit to the Bears as Ponds scored 16 of his game-best 32 points in the final seven minutes, leading St. John’s past Cal 82-79 at the Barclays Center.

“The crowd got us into it late in the game, so it feels good to be home,” said Brooklyn native Ponds about the Red Storm’s late surge.

Cal’s last lead came with 2:39 remaining when Andre Kelly hit a jumper. But Ponds would score nine of St. John’s final 10 points in their closing run. His 32-point performance marked the seventh time the junior guard has surpassed 30 points in his career.

The Bears stayed in it most of the night by making contested shots, rebounding and not committing turnovers. The Bears trailed 38-31 at halftime, but opened the second half with a 9-2 run.

Darius McNeill led Cal with 21 points, and four of his five made 3-pointers came before the break. Justice Sueing finished with 19 points, and 14 of those came after halftime. The Bears shot 57 percent from the field and 81 percent from the foul line. But they weren’t the well-oiled offensive machine they aspire to be despite the superior field goal percentage, tallying just 10 assists on 29 made baskets.

Ultimately, Cal couldn’t get St. John’s stopped defensively at key junctures of the game. The Red Storm shot 55 percent and held a slight edge on the glass (27-23).

“They were hitting tough shots,” St. John’s Justin Simon said. “They’re a great team that’s well-coached. We were trying to give them difficult looks.”

St. John’s (4-0) advances to the championship game Tuesday against VCU. The Bears (1-2) will face Temple in the third-place game preceding St. John’s-VCU at the Barclays Center.

This was the first ever meeting between Cal and St. John’s, coached by Warriors’ legends Chris Mullin and associate head coach Mitch Richmond.

“We got back on our heels a little bit tonight, but I was happy the way we regrouped and got the win,” Mullin said. “[Tuesday] will be nice. It’s always nice to play a high-stakes game early in the season against a good team, and we’ll be jacked up.”

Cal returns home to host Santa Clara on Monday at 6:00 pm PT on the Pac-12 Network.

Growing Up: Cal Bears show well at Seattle in 22-point victory

Seattle_SueingColeman2

By Morris Phillips

Darius McNeill continues to impress for the youthful Cal Bears.

After a scoreless first half the freshman from Houston got it cooking, finishing with a team-best 20 points in Cal’s comfortable 81-59 win over Seattle.

In his first 12 games, McNeill has made a seamless transition to college basketball by averaging 13.7 points a game while shooting 52 percent from the field, 72 percent from the foul stripe, and 48 percent from three. McNeill has at least one made three in every game he’s played.

And McNeill is not alone.  Freshman Justice Sueing has started 11 games and is shooting 49 percent from the field, and 38 percent from three.  Sueing had 17 on Tuesday, playing 36 minutes, his longest floor time stint thus far. And Juhwan Harris-Dyson played 21 minutes off the bench, scoring six, grabbing six boards.

“We’re young, but the guys are picking up what we’re telling them to do,” coach Wyking Jones said. “They’re giving us great effort. It’s just a learning process for these young guys. Now, we’ve got two road wins, we got an overtime win in the last game, so they’re maturing. They’re maturing at a fast rate right now.”

What’s more telling is the young and old Bears alike didn’t forsake their defensive effort, holding Seattle to 33 percent shooting, one game after the Redhawks buried 16 3-pointers against Portland.  Seattle faced adversity early, going more than 4 1/2 minutes scoreless to start the game.

Matej Kavas led Seattle with 20 points, and Richaud Gittens added 11.

“For whatever reason, I think our guys thought tonight was going to be a little easier than it was,” Seattle coach Jim Hayford said. “In the first half, we really struggled offensively, but we were tough enough to stay in there. Then we kind of hit a point where our shots weren’t falling, and then we let our guard down and then the game got away from us.”

Cal led by six at the half, and streteched that lead to 20 with 6:15 remaining.  The Bears conclude non-conference play on Thursday at home against Portland State.

Fully engaged: Cal gets all they can handle from upset-minded Fullerton

AP17350787198251

California guard Deschon Winston (25) grabs a rebound while surrounded by Cal State Fullerton players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Confounding pursuit, this Division I basketball. Coach Wyking Jones believes his Cal team got better Saturday afternoon, while admitting he may have gotten worse.

“I think I need to find a really good cardiologist. These guys aged me today.”

The Bears returned to the hardwood after a week off for final exams only to find the Fullerton Titans proctoring their own test at Haas Pavilion. Adding to the drama, the Titans fell flat early, allowing Cal a 12-0 lead, which the Bears stretched to 15 points briefly before halftime.

Then things got interesting.

Of the four Big West teams to visit Berkeley this season, Fullerton figured to provide the biggest test with their attacking guards, Khalil Ahmad and Kyle Allman combining to average 32 points a game.  But while Ahmad and Allman got theirs, combining for seven of the Titans’ eight threes before halftime, the Bears maintained a comfortable 46-37 lead at the break.

But once Jamal Smith, whose father is the associate head coach at Fullerton and his sister, Kianna is a freshman on Cal’s women’s basketball team, joined Ahmad and Allman as a three-headed monster, the Cal lead was reduced to one with 10:52 remaining as Smith contributed nine points to the early, second half run.

Jones, who beat the odds to earn the Cal head coaching job at age 45, and to do so as a rare, first-time head coach at a Power 5 Conference school, it was at this juncture where his faux health issues arose. With a roster populated by seven freshman, and a pair of transfers, the mood swings of his club can be severe.  This was clearly one of them with the Bears missing shots, as the Titans heated up, even with Cal defending at a fairly high level. Only this time, unlike their meltdown against Wichita State,  or their near meltdown at San Diego State last weekend, the Bears persevered, as the Titans forced overtime, then collapsed in the extra minutes, allowing Cal to escape with a 95-89 win.

“We entered overtime a little deflated by the way it went into overtime — (Fullerton) getting a layup — but they didn’t give up and we continued to fight,” Jones said. “We really saw some resiliency, and saw some growth. After an overtime win, it helps the guys believe a little more that we can find a way to win, even when things aren’t going well.”

Darius McNeill, given the reigns at point guard by Jones, led the Bears with 30 points on 11 of 17 shooting.  Don Coleman, the Bears’ leading scorer, missed 18 of 23 shots from the field, but made things work anyway by converting 13 of 16 from the foul line and making three from deep. Marcus Lee supported his teammates with 19 points, 12 rebounds while providing some resistance to the Titans’ fearless drives to the hoop.

Cal hasn’t entered Pac-12 conference play with a losing record since 2004.  At 5-6, they’ll need wins at Seattle on Tuesday, and at home against Portland State on Thursday to extend that streak.

 

 

 

Bears shake poor taste from Maui with dominating win over Northridge

AP17333179182999
California’s Darius McNeill, right, drives the ball against Cal State Northridge guard Jonathan Brown (14) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY–The faster Cal’s youthful roster progresses the better. Even if some sacrifices have to made along the way. Especially after the team’s poor showing in Maui prompted changes by a coaching staff that was embarrassed, to be frank.

The disjointed pressing defense that bothered Wichita State for a half was scrapped. Senior Kingsley Okoroh was replaced in the starting lineup by promising, shooting guard Juwahn Harris-Dyson. And the offense emphasizing post play was replaced by a small ball attack relying on made jump shots.

On Tuesday, the offense flowed, freshman Darius McNeill provided the shooting, and Cal’s youngest players provided more than half their point total in an easy win over Cal State Northridge, 83-63.

“If Maui doesn’t turn out the way it turned out, me and my staff don’t go to the drawing board and try to figure it out,” coach Wyking Jones said. “The press is about reads, and we weren’t doing a great job making the right reads.”

McNeill made his first seven shots on his way to a game-best 22 points, and Okoroh was productive off the bench with six blocked shots and four rebounds in just 16 minutes. Veterans Marcus Lee and Don Coleman both scored in double figures. So if there are no more stylistic missteps, can the new look Bears score, defend and rebound against the more prominent opponents on the schedule?

“There’s four guys out there who can catch a pass, shoot it and can do good things off the bounce,” Jones explained. “It opened up the floor, gave us better flow — we could switch one through four. Defensively, it just gave us really better flow. I think that as long as my power forward and small forward continue to rebound the ball, this is what we’ll look like for the rest of the season.”

Against Big West opponent Northridge, the answers were there. The Bears led by 18 at the half, briefly by 29 in the second half, and limited the Matadors to 37 percent shooting. Tavrion Dawson, Northridge’s leading scorer and arguably the best player Cal faced in their now-concluded, three-game tour of the Big West, finished with 17 points, but missed nine of his 15 shots from the floor.

The Bears managed to block 11 shots despite the fact that Lee and Okoroh weren’t both in the starting lineup for the first time this season, and didn’t appear together at any point. Cal’s sextet of freshman, three starters and three reserves, scored 43 of the team’s 83 points.

GOOD KNOWLEDGE: As a trivia note, the names Irving and Theus appeared in a box score for the first time since December 1986 when Matadors coach Reggie Theus and Dr. J, Julius Erving faced each other for the final time as NBA adversaries at the temporary Arco Arena in Sacramento. On Tuesday, Reggie Theus Jr. played 19 minutes as a reserve for Northridge, while Jules Erving, Dr. J’s son, made his college debut for Cal, playing the game’s final minute.