0-5 For The First Time: Bears suffer unprecedented 59-55 loss to Texas State

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–This is the low point for California basketball. They can only go up from here.

Or can they?

The Bears suffered a fifth straight loss to start the season at Haas Pavilion on Monday against a smaller opponent from a lesser conference. It’s a reoccurring theme for sure, one the Bears can’t seem to escape.

This is the first time in the history of the program–115 years and counting–that the Bears have been 0-5.

Texas State blew in to Berkeley on Monday, frustrated the they couldn’t close the deal at UT-San Antonio on Thursday, when they were logically unable to make their meager 56 points stand up on the road.

The answer? Stop through Berkeley on the way to Hawaii for Thanksgiving and do a just a little more than they did at UTSA.

Guess what? That strategy worked.

Cal committed 16 turnovers and the Bobcats from the Southland Conference took a 23-22 lead four minutes before halftime and never relinquished it in their 59-55 win.

Again, the hosts didn’t execute anything with force, and went the final five minutes before halftime with scoring. Coach Mark Fox cited his limited options at both guard spots and last minute role changes that left his team less than prepared.

“We’re so disjointed with the lineups we’ve been forced to play,” Fox said.

Once again, only two, traditional guards played for Cal as Devin Askew led the Bears with 17 points, but missed 10 of his 15 shots, and Joel Brown went scoreless off the bench with five turnovers.

Overall, the hosts weren’t a mess statistically, but their deliberate pace produced 55 points, which is more often than not just enough to get you beat at the Division I level. After leading for much of the first half the Bears trailed by as many as 11 points after the break.

Senior guard, and two-time, All-Conference selection Mason Harrell led Texas State with 21 points and all the heady plays down the stretch as Cal got within two points of the lead with 26 seconds remaining.

Brandon Davis added 14 for the Bobcats.

“It’s how you respond, I’m so proud of all those guys in the locker room. They truly responded.” associate head coach Benny Seltzer said.

The win was the first for Texas State over a Power 5 school since 1998, and their first ever over a Pac-12 opponent. Earlier this season, the Bobcats also won at Rhode Island.

The Bears travel to Florida for the Thanksgiving holiday where they will face TCU on Friday, and either Iowa or Clemson on Saturday.

Southern Discomfort: Bears start slow, never settle in, and fall at home to Southern U. 74-66

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–A slow start and tentative play doomed the Cal Bears again in a 74-66 home loss to Southern.

The Bears trailed 9-1 and 31-15 as the Jaquars, from the SWAC conference, came out hot, then gained confidence on a night they would shoot a blistering 52 percent from three. A dejected coach Mark Fox started with perimeter defense when trying to dissect how his team fell to 0-4.

“I can’t put a defense together that gives us a chance to win,” Fox admitted. “Twelve 3-point makes, and we repeatedly failed to guard the 3-point line.”

The visitors, coached by former Kentucky Sean Woods, weren’t necessarily brimming with confidence after starting their season with double-digit losses at UNLV, Arizona and St. Mary’s, but they did gain some traction with their competitive, first half against the Gaels on Wednesday. Their emphasis on exploiting their quickness advantage at the guard spots was spot on as their screens designed to free up shooters gave Cal fits.

“No doubt,” Woods declared when told Fox said SU’s fleet guards were problems. “We can shoot, dribble and pass and we did it tonight.”

Brion Whitley led Southern with 18 points, and P.J. Byrd and Dre’Shawn Allen each scored 13. The trio was a combined 12 for 12 from the foul stripe as Cal was made to pay when they resorted to reaching when trying to defend.

The Bears never led, but they did shoot better in the second half after trailing 38-26 at the break. After making just seven field goals in the first 20 minutes, Cal improved to 50 percent shooting the rest of the way, including 7 of 16 from three. But throughout they never appeared confident, and Southern’s defense retreated to the painted area, daring Cal to make some outside shots.

Lars Thiemann, who finished with 15 points, saw his impact lessened when Southern packed it in. Cal was left to hoist perimeter shots, some which fell, but the process kept them from gaining any rhythm offensively. Devin Askew led the Bears with 21 points, but the transfer guard had a rough evening with seven missed shots and seven turnovers.

“I’m asking Devin Askew to do everything,” Fox said. “He’s having to do too much. We’re asking him to do more than is probably fair.”

Fox wanting to put emphasis on his belief that his team’s winless start falls squarely on his shoulders, declined to make any of his players available to the media after the game.

Cal last started a season with four, consecutive losses in 1998. The Bears are 35-64 in their first 99 games under Fox, who could suffer an, unprecedented fourth, consecutive losing season with stops at Nevada and Georgia prior to coming to Cal in his 17 seasons as a head coach.

Could help be arriving soon? That’s to be determined as Cal is still without transfer DeJuan Clayton, who Fox says has yet to practice due to a lower body injury. Guard Jarred Hyder is also out, and leading, returning scorer Jalen Celestine isn’t expected to see action for another three to four weeks after off-season surgery.

“It’s going to be a work in progress until we get another shooter on the floor,” Fox said.

The Bears host Texas State on Monday before traveling to Florida for two games over the Thanksgiving break.

Still Searching For A Win: Bears Fall to 0-3 with 64-62 loss at UC San Diego

By Morris Phillips

The Golden Bears now have surprising losses to Division I newcomer UC San Diego in consecutive seasons.

And not only that: only four UCSD players returned from the 80-67 win in the season opener for both teams in Berkeley a year ago, so essentially Cal has fallen to two, different groups of Tritons.

The one constant? 6’3″ junior guard Bryce Pope.

Pope spearheaded the host’s first half surge that saw UCSD lead by as many as 18 points, then hold on for a 64-62 win. Last season, Pope laced Cal with 18 points on four threes. On Tuesday in front of a raucous, sellout crowd in La Jolla, Pope led the Tritons with 19 points including five 3-pointers, and the back breaker with 12 seconds remaining.

Coach Mark Fox didn’t like what he saw from his Bears early, as they dug themselves into a 28-10 hole, and in his opinion, didn’t follow the game plan.

“We did nothing that we wanted to do in the first half defensively,” Fox said.

At halftime, Fox admitted that he eschewed making changes, but simply asked his guys to play with greater attention to the original plan. And they did, cutting a 37-27 halftime deficit to one point twice in the game’s last three minutes. But the Bears never grabbed a lead, and they were sent home with a defeat when Pope connected from distance, increasing UC San Diego’s lead to 64-60 with 12 seconds left.

Devin Askew, who led Cal with 13 points, cut the lead in half with a driving layup, but he couldn’t connect on a desperation runner at the buzzer from 30 feet that would have given Cal the win.

Fox, beginning his fourth season as head coach, saw his record drop to 35-61, and he certainly didn’t come to Berkeley to be a conduit energizing other UC system schools. But that’s where he stands with an 0-5 record against UCLA, 0-2 against UC San Diego and a 2019 win against UC Davis, as well as an eye-opening loss 75-65 to the Aggies in this season’s opener.

His frustration was evident in post-game remarks on the Cal radio network.

“Does the bus have to run over you before you concentrate?” Fox said. “We played with much more purpose in the second half than we did in half number one.”

The Bears missed seven of their first eight shots, and committed eight turnovers in the game’s first eight minutes. Again, they played better approaching halftime, and during frantic, second half rally, but the desired result didn’t materialize.

Starters Lars Thiemann, Kuany Kuany and Grant Newell also scored in double figures for Cal, as that trio had an exemplary 18 of 21 performance from the foul line. But the Bears didn’t fare well defensively on the perimeter and they certainly missed Jalen Celestine, Jarred Hyder and DeJuan Clayton–all out with injuries–in that regard.

The Bears return home for a Friday night meeting with the Southern Jaquars from the SWAC conference in search of their first win.

Cal Caught in the K Zone: K-State, Keyontae knock the Bears for a loop in 63-54 loss

BERKELEY, CA–Keyontae Johnson’s rebirth rolled through Haas Pavilion Friday afternoon, and it was nothing less than inspiring regardless of the architect’s humility.

“I just thank the team for having confidence in me to let me showcase what I’m capable of,” Johnson said after his double-double led Kansas State past Cal, 63-54. “Without them, those plays would have never happened.”

Johnson is the highly-regarded NBA prospect who saw his career at Florida end nearly two years ago when he collapsed during a game at Florida State. A medically-induced coma lasting three days spoke to the anxious moments Johnson and his family endured.

Johnson recovered, but his basketball career was put on hiatus until this week. Now at rebuilding Kansas State, Johnson is back on the court and the focal point of his new team. Nine of Johnson’s team-best 16 points came in the first half as the Wildcats gave Cal fits, while building a 36-21 lead at the break.

The Bears committed 15 turnovers, made just seven baskets on four assists in a nightmare-like, first 20 minutes. The hosts recovery was dramatic as they drew within 47-46 on Sam Alajiki’s lay-in with 5:37 remaining. But K-State’s Jay Nowell scored the next six points and the Wildcats survived to move to 2-0 on the season.

“We dug too big of a hole in the first half,” coach Mark Fox said. “We’re playing a lot of young guys and they made some errors – and they’re going to make some errors – but I was proud of how we competed. I’m disappointed that we didn’t find that competitive nature earlier.”

Squandering a 42-22 lead they held with 15:31 remaining caused the visitors some anxious moments. But the defensive effort they displayed in the first half returned down the stretch.

“We (tried) to get as many stops as possible within five minutes,” Nowell said of the final minutes. “We just came together and talked it out and figured out the way that we needed to do to win.”

The Bears fell to 0-2 with the loss and diversifying their offense likely will be their focus heading into Tuesday’s trip to UC San Diego for their meeting with the Tritons of the Big West Conference. Cal has averaged just 59 points in their first two contests.

The Bears are currently without the trio of Jalen Celestine, Jarred Hyder and DeJuan Clayton due to injuries and none appear ready to return as soon as next week.

“We found a little grit to us in the second half, and that’s important for us because until we get healthy we’re going to have to win some gritty games,” Fox said.

33-1: Cal’s first-ever loss to UC Davis, 75-65, comes in the season opener

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–When the moment of decision presented itself Monday night, the UC Davis Aggies seized it.

And with that the unprecedented happenings within the Cal basketball program multiplied.

Cal’s 75-65 loss to UC Davis in the season opener for both teams was their first in the 34-game series that dates back to 1917.

The Bears lost their season opener at home for the second, consecutive year on the heels of their 80-67 loss to UC San Diego last year.

And most significantly, the Bears, picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12 coach’s pre-season poll might not exceed expectations and suffer an unprecedented, sixth consecutive losing season, and their fourth under coach Mark Fox.

After trailing the Aggies for 26 minutes, including halftime, the Bears gained a 54-53 lead with 11:32 remaining with Devin Askew and center Lars Thiemann leading the way. Kuany Kuany’s 3-pointer and Grant Newell’s layin following a Thiemann offensive rebound gave Cal its biggest advantage at 60-54.

Then as quickly as Cal was engaged and whole, they splintered.

The Aggies put together a 17-1 run over the next seven minutes that muted the host’s crowd and decided the contest. Robbie Beasley Jr., Ty Johnson and leading, returning scorer Elijah Pepper combined for 15 of the 17 points, and UC Davis was in command leading 71-61 with 2:53 remaining.

“When we came back and took the lead, we just had a couple awful possessions that led to baskets for them, and we never recovered,” Fox said.

“We got sped up and didn’t take the right shots,” Thiemann said.

While playing at a quicker pace, and attacking the basket aggressively, the Aggies had success from the opening tip, building a 27-21 lead while shooting 68 percent from the field through the first 10 minutes. Cal steadied at that point as Thiemann and Askew kept them within reach, down 41-35 at the break.

Both of Cal’s leaders would go on to record career bests with Askew scoring 19, and Thiemann 17. The Cal center also contributed eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals.

Christian Anigwe, younger brother of record-breaking Kristine Anigwe from the Cal’s women’s program, led UC Davis with 21 points.

All of the Pac-12 teams hosted non-conference opponents on opening night, and only Cal and USC suffered losses. The Trojans fell 74-61 to Florida Gulf Coast. With the loss, Mark Fox has a 35-59 record at Cal in his three plus seasons at the helm.

The Bears host Kansas State on Friday at 4pm.

Exhibition Education: Cal a work in progress in 62-55 win over Chico State

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Cal basketball is under way, and no one knows what to expect.

The process of discovery kicked off Wednesday night as Cal squeezed past Division II Chico State 62-55 in their exhibition opener with the Bears featuring more new players than old.

The newness was apparent in Cal’s disjointed effort. Missed free throws and 16 offensive rebounds kept Chico State attached, and they were within four points of the hosts, down 59-55 with less than a minute to play.

“I was disappointed in our defensive rebounding,” coach Mark Fox said. “We didn’t do a good job on the glass.”

The Bears didn’t shoot it well either, finishing with 38 percent proficiency from the field while misfiring on 16 of their 18 3-point attempts. Fox felt his club’s shot selection wasn’t prudent with numerous shots early in possessions, the product of an impatient team anxious to please in its opening game.

But the Bears did get it done defensively, holding Chico to 28 percent shooting for the game, while denying their intended plan of getting hot from distance. The Wildcats were stymied early as Cal limited them to one made three on 10 attempts before halftime.

Newcomers ND Okafor and Devin Askew led the Bears with 11 points, and returning center Lars Thiemann added 10. But there was struggle in their numbers as Askew, who played previously at Kentucky then Texas, missed 10 of his team-high 14 shots from the floor. Thiemann was 4 of 9 from the foul line, part of the Bears’ disappointing 18 of 31 effort from the stripe.

The efficiency of Cal’s offense is their biggest question mark in the absence of their three leading scorers from last season, Grant Anticevich, Jordan Shepherd and Andre Kelly, who transfered to UC Santa Barbara after four seasons in Berkeley.

The Pac-12 coaches picked Cal to finish 11th in the conference standings, leaving the Bears a daunting task as they look to avoid an unprecedented, sixth consecutive losing season.

The Bears official opener comes on Monday as the UC Davis Aggies visit Haas Pavilion.