Sun Devils too slick, too polished in rout of Cal in Tempe

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Photo courtesy of Al Sermeno/KLC Fotos

By Morris Phillips

What qualifies as offensive execution in Tempe doesn’t closely resemble what offensive execution looks like in Berkeley.

Not even close.

The Sun Devils routed Cal, 84-53 while entertaining their home crowd with slick passing and emphatic dunks throughout. ASU took what could have been a very tense evening for the NCAA tournament hopeful Sun Devils and transformed it into a basketball carnival.

“We started the game loose and making plays,” said freewheeling, point guard Remy Martin. “That’s what happens when we play Sun Devil basketball.”

Arizona State scored 19 of the final 29 points before halftime to break open a close game and establish a double-digit lead at the break. The lead grew to 18 just minutes into the second half, part of ASU’s torrid 56 percent shooting after halftime that turned the game into a rout.

While the Sun Devils managed to get whatever shot they wanted, the Bears struggled to establish anything offensively. Cal missed all 10 of their 3-point attempts before halftime and eight more after the break. Cal’s 0 for 18 shooting from deep marked the second time the Bears have gone an entire game without a made three this season. Poor passing and lack of meaningful penetration doomed the Cal attack, which amassed just six assists while totaling 17 turnovers.

“I felt like everything we did was perimeter based,” coach Wyking Jones said. “The times we did get into the lane, it just didn’t feel like we were able to capitalize.”

Don Coleman led the Bears with 16 points but missed 12 of his 19 shots. Justice Sueing had 13 points, but he also struggled to make shots. Coleman and Sueing both missed all five of their 3-point attempts.

The loss dropped the Bears to 8-22, 2-15 marking the first time in the program’s 111-year history a California team has lost 22 times in a season. The Bears have lost six straight, and 14 of their last 15.

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Cal Bears fall to Portland State Vikings 106-81 before Christmas

Photo: @CalMBBall

By Alexandra Evans

BERKELEY—The California Golden Bears (6-6) faced their last out-of-conference opponent, the Portland State Vikings (9-3), who defeated them 106-81 at Haas Pavilion on Thursday evening. 

The first half started off slow for the Golden Bears effective immediately. Within the first two minutes, the team was down by nine points. At the halfway point, they were down 13. With six minutes left, McNeill, Deschon Winston, and Marcus Lee brought the Bears’ score to 24. At that point, PSU had 39 points, but Cal was no longer trailing by more than half their score. That did not last long, as PSU brought their lead up to double Cal’s score (48-24) with 3:40 remaining. At the end of the first 20 minutes, PSU led Cal 56-37. There were few moments where Cal trailed by fewer than 20 points, and no Bears players made any three-pointers in the first half.

Cal was evidently determined to pick things up as the second half commenced, but PSU was just unstoppable. Six minutes in, the Vikings brought their score up by 16 points, compared to the Bears’ eight-point increase, for a score of 72-45. PSU held their 20+ point lead over Cal through the entire second half, even knocking on a 30-point lead here and there. With three and a half minutes left, Bryce Canda made a three-pointer to bring PSU’s score to an even 100, while Cal still trailed with 74 points. This was the first time in nearly seven years (since February 10, 2011 against the University of Washington) that the Bears allowed 100 points in a single game.

Don Coleman led the Bears in points tonight with 19, the seventh time he has exceeded the team this season, and the 12th time in 13 games, he has hit double digits in points. Winston tallied 10 points, a career-peak, and Nick Hamilton made five rebounds, which was a career-peak for him.

Next, the Cal Bears will face their conference rival, the Stanford Cardinal, in Palo Alto on Saturday, December 30. Stay tuned for coverage from me that night!

Tables turned: Cal in a zone as the Bears upset San Diego State on the road

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San Diego State’s Trey Kell advances the ball with California’s Don Coleman in pursuit (photos courtesy of Ernie Anderson/SDSU)

By Morris Phillips

Yeah, the youthful Cal Bears are a struggling basketball team, but that doesn’t mean you can overlook them, or take short cuts in your preparation when playing them.

On Saturday afternoon, the San Diego State Aztecs found that to be the case–in Viejas Arena, one of the college basketball’s most advantageous homecourt environments. After the Aztecs overcame Cal’s second half, double digit-leads with a furious rally, they allowed the Bears to recover and score the last five points of the game, and escape with a 63-62 win.

Afterwards, the disappointment of the SDSU contingent was a profound as Cal’s elation.

“We obviously have work to do, every team in the country does, but I like my team and I like how hard they’re working,” SDSU coach Brian Dutcher explained. “They’re supposed to be disappointed over this game. I’m disappointed, but we have to move on and we have 12 days to get ready for a very good Gonzaga team on the 21st.”

Cal’s win ended a four-game losing streak to San Diego State that stretched back to December 2010 when sophomore Kawhi Leonard had an eye-popping game against the Bears at Haas Pavilion. A year ago, the Aztecs embarrassed the Bears in Sacramento, winning handily at Golden 1 Arena with Ivan Rabb and his two seven-foot teammates unable to stop SDSU’s relentless inside attack. With Cal coming off a 27-point loss to Central Arkansas, things weren’t expected to change in the Aztecs loud, home venue.

But they did, from the start, as coach Wyking Jones hatched a 2-3 zone scheme and a bigger lineup that gave San Diego State fits.

“The guys absolutely followed the game plan, Jones explained. “We wanted to slow things up a little bit. We just said to our guys if we play that 2-3 zone we’re going to make them shoot us out of it. Keep it tight. Try to limit penetration.”

The result? SDSU looked ill-prepared to attack Cal’s zone and missed 22 of a whopping 28 3-point attempts as they failed to get the ball into the paint. Cal took the lead early, led by five at the half, and increased that lead to 53-40 with 13:10 remaining.

To that point, the Bears had bucked many of their trends that labeled their early season a mixed bag with the sweetest treats pilfered. Using both big men together? After scraping lineups with Kingsley Okoroh and Marcus Lee that were too slow in transition and not effective enough offensively, the pair saw considerable time against SDSU, mainly to keep tabs on Aztecs Malik Pope and Kameron Rooks. Defensive intensity? The Bears outrebounded SDSU and benefitted from 19 points off 14 turnovers committed by the Aztecs. Besides Pope (20 points), Jeremy Hemsley and Matt Mitchell (13 points each) Cal held the other seven Aztecs to see action in check. Freshman scoring? Starters Justice Sueing and Darius McNeill combined for 22 points. Sueing scored Cal’s first seven points of the second half as the Bears created a cushion.

But this is Cal, filled with youth and the accompanying mood swings in their play. Over the next 12 minutes, the Bears would add just five points and see SDSU surge.  A brief tussle under the basket between Pope and Coleman that resulted in matching technical fouls would energize the Viejas crowd, and the Bears’ double-digit lead would evaporate.

“I told them in the first timeout, when they spurted on us, that we have to have a level of toughness and grit about us,” Dutcher said. “The crowd will respond if you just play hard. You don’t have to make all the perfect plays, just go out and show them you’re playing hard and competing at a higher level. So we picked up our ball pressure, we got in the ball harder, we doubled some ball screens and it was a case of our defense getting us going offensively a little bit.”

With less than a minute remaining, and Cal trailing 62-58, Coleman scored on a layup and converted a three-point play.  Then with just seven seconds remaining, Juhwan Harris-Dyson would make a pair of free throws. Throw in defensive stops after each, and the Bears escaped with an improbable, and unlikely win.

“It just gives our guys a tremendous boost of confidence,” Jones said. “They should feel like they can compete with pretty much anybody.”

Wichita State registers a furious comeback win, but Cal finds it identity in Maui Invitational opener

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Wichita State center Shaquille Morris, right, blocks a shot from California guard Darius McNeill, left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

By Morris Phillips

Without doubt, the Cal Bears saw the skill and fury of  No. 6 Wichita State on Monday in Maui, but not until the unranked Bears shredded the Shockers’ defense and built an 18-point lead with 16 minutes remaining.

What transpired in the final minutes was all Wichita State–primarily their depth inside–enough to eviscerate Cal’s big lead and craft a double-digit win for the Shockers, 92-82. In the process of the topsy-turvy affair however, the Bears may have developed an identity, one they hope will carry them further than the bottom-feeder expectations they were labeled with in the pre-season.

“Ultimately experience won out today,” Coach Wyking Jones said of what derailed his Bears in the final minutes. “But the guys definitely gave us everything that they had. At the end of the day, what I’ve been preaching the whole time is that hopefully we get better game in and game out. So I felt like we got better today.”

Don Coleman scored 26 of his 35 points in Cal’s full court pressure-fueled first half. But as soon as Cal extended their nine-point halftime lead to 58-40 with 15:32 remaining, WSU responded with a trapping defense of their own that changed the tide. Wichita State’s 10-0 run got them within seven, and then an 8-0 run capped by Samajae Haynes-Jones jumper tied the score at 76 with 5:19 remaining.

Burly senior Shaquille Morris scored six of his team-best 25 points in the ensuing three minutes as the Shockers seized controlled, buoyed by foul trouble that enveloped both Cal posts, Kingsley Okoroh and Marcus Lee. Both Okoroh and Lee would foul out, combining for just four points and nine rebounds in 32 combined minutes.

Landry Shamet energized WSU with 23 points in 24 minutes on the floor. Frontcourt reserve Rauno Nurger chipped in 11 points, six rebounds as the Shockers only other double-figure scorer. Shamet and Nurger combined to shoot 13 of 16 from the floor.

Cal got 20 points from Justice Sueing and 16 from Darius McNeill. Cal’s two freshman starters helped initially in repelling WSU’s run, combining for 15 of their 36 points after Cal achieved their biggest lead, but neither scored a basket in the game’s final four minutes.

“I don’t know if you guys know it or not, but (Sueing) was out for six weeks with a stress fracture,” Jones said. “He was out so long my staff and I kind of forgot what he really did for us or provided for us. So we’re all kind of seeing it like you all are seeing what he was able to bring to the table, night in and night out. He plays with a lot of poise and a lot of confidence.”

The Bears will face Virginia Commonwealth in the consolation bracket on Tuesday. VCU fell to Marquette, 94-82 in the tournament opener. Malik Crowfield hit five three-pointers and paced the Rams with 17 points.

Wichita State will face Marquette in the semifinals. Coach Gregg Marshall didn’t like what his team showed early against Cal, but Marshall’s bench didn’t disappoint, outscoring Cal’s reserves 30-7. The Bears got just two baskets from their six players that got time off the bench as the Bears wilted visibly late.

“I was disappointed in the way we played in the first half. Give Cal credit. Their zone was interesting and made it hard for us. We looked like the Bad News Bears for the most part. But the things that made this program pretty good over the years has been our grit and determination, and we certainly showed that in the second half.”

 

Cal bounces back, beats Cal Poly as Coach Jones wins for the first time

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California center Kingsley Okoroh (22) bring the ball down court during NCAA Men’s Basketball game between UC Riverside Highlanders and California Golden Bears 66-74 lost at Hass Pavilion Berkeley Calif. Thurman James / CSM (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

On the cover photo by twitter/Cal Athletics forward Justice Sueing drives on Cal Poly defenders at Haas Pavilion Sunday night

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Apparently, the Cal Bears have inadvertently discovered a huge chasm in the pecking order of men’s basketball teams from the Big West Conference.

UC Riverside, picked to finish eighth in the nine-member conference, had their way with the Bears in the season opener on Friday, leading by as many as 23 before settling for a 74-66 win.

Cal Poly, picked ninth with one vote fewer than Riverside, trailed the Bears by 19 points early in the second half before rallying only to lose to Cal, 85-82.

Never mind the difference between the outlooks for the conference foes, what got into Cal, far more poised and effective against Cal Poly, than they were just 48 hours before against Riverside?

“We responded by getting closer as a team,” said transfer Marcus Lee, who contributed 21 points, 11 rebounds in the 85-82 win. “With a team that’s so young and so new, going from a loss to coming together with a big win is huge.”

In fact, guard Don Coleman and center Kingsley Okoroh represent all that isn’t new about the Bears, the team with the fewest returning lettermen in Division I with two. So some level of variance in the team’s performance should be expected. But to this level? On Friday, the Bears had almost no offensive cohesion, shooting 30 percent from the field and managing just seven assists. On Sunday, they doubled their assists and made 56 percent of their shots.

“We got the ball inside,” Coleman said in explaining the improved offensive efficiency. “We played inside-out instead of outside-in. That was a big reason for it.”

Coleman became the first Bear to score 30 points in back-to-back games since Ryan Anderson accomplished the feat in 2008. But this time, all that scoring was within a framework, and didn’t reflect poorly on Coleman or the Bears as it did on Friday when Coleman needed 28 shots–missing 19–to reach that total.

“I told him, `In the half-court set you need to be a little more selective,'” coach Wyking Jones said. “I’m happy he had this kind of a game because it’s a lesson.”

Supporting Coleman, Lee, Okoroh and freshman Justice Sueing all posted career bests in scoring, and did so while making better than half their shot attempts. The unusual number of players reaching their career bests in scoring in the same game reflects the fact that this year’s Cal team is a collection of players that aren’t familiar with being the lead dog, but adjustments in their games are being made quickly.

“Obviously, we did a great job of getting the ball in the paint to Kingsley and Marcus, and getting drives from our guards as well to shoot 70 percent from the field in the first half, ” Jones said. “Second half, I think our guys got a little too loose and kind of let their guards down a little bit.”

The Mustangs made 16 threes to close the gap at the finish with the last two made three coming in the game’s final ten seconds. Marcellus Garrick led Cal Poly with 19 points off the bench, and the Mustangs acquitted themselves far better than they did in losing to Stanford by 16 points on Friday.

The Bears conclude their season-opening homestand on Thursday against Wofford at 6pm.