Photo credit: @CalMBBall
By: Michael Duca
BERKELEY, Calif. — In a Christmas-break clash between two local rebuilding programs, the California Golden Bears and San Jose State Spartans met at Haas Pavilion Friday evening in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd. Cal prevailed, 88-80. Darius McNeil (season-high 22 points) and Andre Kelly (21 points and 10 rebounds, both career highs) led Cal, while Oumar Barry had a career-high 18 points, one of four Spartans in double figures.
The Spartans, behind five players in double figures, were coming off a loss to Stanford where they gave the Cardinal all they wanted, and more, before succumbing 78-73. Cal was coming off a 95-73 drubbing at the hands of Fresno State.
While both teams opened the game shooting poorly (a combined 2-for-11 in the first three minutes), the Golden Bears (4-6) rode runs of 5-0 and 7-0 to double up the Spartans (3-7), 14-7, in the first seven minutes of play. It would be misleading to attribute the low scoring to defensive aggressiveness, and each team committed just one personal foul in the game’s first 10 minutes of play.
After the first media timeout, at 16:00, the Bears found the range, hitting 4 of their next 5 shots including 3-of-9 shooting from long distance to extended their lead from 5-4 to 17-9 at the second media timeout.
When the third media timeout rolled around, at 7:27, Cal, trying to solve the Spartans’ 3-2 zone, was riding a cold streak of nearly 5 minutes without a field goal, and more than eight minutes with just a single layup. It got so bad, usually reliable Matt Bradley came up with a steal in the Spartan paint and ran the length of the floor, only to miss the cripple layup. A minute later, San Jose State tied the game at 19 apiece.
The teams traded scores until intermission, which came with the Spartans holding a 32-30 advantage, despite having a less-than-stellar 4/10 assist/turnover ratio. San Jose State out-shot Cal 48% to 35% and outrebounded them 18-14. Andre Kelly led the Golden Bears with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting, and six rebounds. Post man Oumar Barry led San Jose State, also with 12 points (on 4-of-6 shooting) and six rebounds, en route to a career scoring high of 18.
Cal came out of the intermission smoking, shooting 70% in the first six minutes and opening a 14-point lead behind 9 points from Darius McNeil.
“They were packing in,” McNeil said, “they wanted us to shoot it (in the first half), we just started hitting them after halftime.”
“I talked to him at halftime,” noted Coach Jones, “and told him he needed to shoot the ball more.”
The Golden Bears were more aggressive to the hoop in a 26-11 run to start the half, and as a result were in the bonus with nearly 13 minutes left in the game.
“Coach had us start to press and we got some turnovers and opened a lead,” said McNeil.
The pesky Spartans refused to go away, however, cutting the lead back to 8 with 6:30 to play. A Matt Bradley block of a Michael Steadman layup at 5:00 produced the Bears’ third defensive stop in four possessions and led to a 12-point cushion with 4:46 to play, 77-65. The Spartans weren’t done yet, however. An 11-0 run in the game’s final three minutes saw the Golden Bears clinging to a 4-point lead inside a minute, after a 2:40 scoring drought.
San Jose State head coach Jean Prioleau said, “I think we have a very competitive group. We are resilient, and in the beginning stages of building a program in the South Bay Area. I think we shot very well tonight, maybe the best in school history. We had a lot of live ball turnovers, and that’s very bad for us. We switched up our man and zone, and they hit some threes, but we lost because of live ball turnovers.”
The Spartans committed 15 turnovers, while the Golden Bears had a season-low 5.
Paris Austin, who had a career-high 11 assists and zero turnovers, hit a pair of free throws with 36 seconds left, and a foul on Steadman on the ensuing possession all but sealed the deal, giving Austin another pair of free throws with a 6-point lead. Austin netted both to give the Bears their final cushion. The 88 points are the most surrendered by San Jose State this season.
“It felt like this was a complete team effort,” said a smiling Coach Jones, “which is what you want. Paris Austin stands out, because we have been talking about sharing the ball, and 11 assists with no turnovers does that. He didn’t care about his points, but they took care of themselves.”
The double-double for Kelly was the first of his career.
“I just try to shoot a high percentage from the field,” Kelly said, “and I tried to make plays tonight. To be honest, I don’t look at the stat sheet, I didn’t know how good my night was.”
Coach Jones knew how good it was. “I would love to see him do that every night,” Jones said.
Next up for Cal is a December 29 game at Haas vs. the Seattle University Redhawks. Tipoff is at 5 pm.