By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, CA–Coach Mark Fox stalked the sidelines, pestered the refs, incited the Haas Pavilion crowd, and as always, had the full attention of his team, but in the end, Fox had to tip his cap.
Visiting UCLA just brought too much to the table.
In a defensive struggle, the No. 5 Bruins simply were too stingy, and wore Cal down in their 60-52 victory.
“There’s no shame in laying it out there against the best teams and falling short. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure,” Fox said. “We failed today, but these kids competed in a way that I was really pleased with.”
The Bears had success defensively, limiting UCLA to 60 points and a horrible night shooting from three (4 for 18), but in the game’s waning moments Cal’s resolve lessened and a pair of Bruins were left wide open to hit back-breaking, 3-pointers. Johnny Juzang’s three put UCLA up 55-43 with 3:28 remaining.
And how did Cal’s big effort defensively come to such an unsightly finish? Probably the result of climbing uphill all night, trailing for the game’s final 23 minutes, and realizing UCLA’s defense, which forced 15 turnovers, wasn’t going to relent.
“We’ve got to stop other teams from scoring,” UCLA’s Cody Riley said. “When we come out, we’re not always going to make shots. We can’t rely on making shots. It’s the defensive side where we win the ballgame.”
Riley’s presence in the paint was a welcome sight for his teammates, who fashioned an unlikely trip to the Final Four last spring without him due to injuries. With him, Cal was made to suffer as two of their top three scorers, Grant Anticevich and Jordan Shepherd, were harassed into horrible shooting nights. The attention paid to Anticevich and Shepherd allowed Andre Kelly the space to make 11 of his 14 shots, but a one-man show isn’t the precursor to an upset. For the most part, Cal was denied entry into the lane, and their 1 for 14 shooting from three did little to compensate for their lack of easier baskets.
“I knew that we were going to take Cal’s best shot because I know what Mark Fox is made of and I know how upset he was with their defense Thursday,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “They gave up 50 points in the paint (versus USC). They were minus-38 in points in the paint. I can only imagine their film session and their practice yesterday. So we told our guys it was going to be World War III. We were probably going to have to grind it out. We do a good job at taking care of the ball. We’re top 10 in the country in that. It gives us a chance. Eventually we knocked down some shots.”
Tyger Campbell, the orchestrator of UCLA’s attack finished with 17 points, four assists. Jaime Jaquez, Jr. contributed 14, and Riley added 9. Juzang missed seven of his 10 shots, but buried the big 3-pointer late to make his 3 for 10 shooting more impactful.