Short Stay In Vegas: Cal can’t keep up with Washington State in 66-59 Pac-12 Tourney loss

By Morris Phillips

Several of the elements Cal needed to extend their stay in Las Vegas were present on Wednesday. The key ingredient–made baskets–was completely absent.

The Bears shot a dreadful 31 percent from the floor, missing 16 3-point attempts, in a 66-59 first round loss to Washington State at the Pac-12 Tournament.

“Offensively we seemed to be out of rhythm and didn’t shoot it well in the first half and so we dug ourselves too big of a hole, eventhough in the second half we played a little bit better,” coach Mark Fox said.

Down the stretch Cal stayed within reach, and cut their deficit to six with 23 seconds remaining, but the Cougars–near perfect from the foul line–held them off.

Efe Abogidi led WSU with 19 points, five rebounds and Tyrell Roberts added 14 as the Cougs advanced to a quarterfinal meeting with UCLA on Thursday.

The Bears (12-20) finished their season with losses in five of their last six contests, and took their 20th loss in the finale. They also saw the college careers of Grant Anticevich and Jordan Shepherd, two of their key contributors, come to a close.

The first half contained enough Cal errors to create the hole Fox eluded to as the visitors shot a chilly 23 percent while allowing the Cougars to expand their lead in the last two minutes. Joel Brown attempted to give the Bears a defensive leader, but he only lasted nine minutes before it became apparent that he should not play any further with his knee that foced him to miss the regular season finale an issue.

Meanwhile, Abogidi with his lengthy arms and quickness seemed to slither around Lars Thiemann for a memorable layup, and leading scorer Michael Flowers put Jalen Celestine on skates with some playground moves.

But WSU wouldn’t pull away as Cal’s edge in rebounding, as well as their deliberate pace kept the high-scoring Cougs from gaining any offensive consistency. With 7:35 remaining Celestine’s layup kept the Bears within range, down 49-41.

“They bothered us with their physicality and they got on the glass, but our zone defense was pretty good and we hit our free throws,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said.

Facing WSU’s zone look, the Bears couldn’t find their offense or get any closer. Anticevich (2 for 12) and Shepherd (6 for 17) finished with subpar numbers and no one else stepped up. Defensively, Abogidi’s quickness put Cal in a predicament as Theimann wasn’t quick enough to defend the 6’8″ forward which necessitated Fox to commit Anticevich to cover him. That ultimately kept the Cal senior from having an impactful evening with his scoring.

The Bears will have a new look in the upcoming season without Shepherd and Anticevich, and with the return of the injured Andre Kelly in question as well. Fox has vowed to extract an offensive leader from the graduate transfer market to lead the Bears in 2022-23.

Run Ragged: Sun Devils race past Cal in 71-44 romp in Tempe

By Morris Phillips

How do you characterize the two-game series between Cal and Arizona State this season?

Well, that’s easy. Both teams put forth their best effort, that is if they didn’t fall on their collective faces.

On January 2, the Bears growled menacingly from the start, leading by 18 at the half and winning by 24 as they shot 51 percent from the floor and passed the ball expertly leading to 17 assists.

On Thursday in the rematch in the desert, ASU was off and running, building a brief, double-digit lead in the first half, then burying Cal with a running and shooting barrage after halftime, resulting in an, easy 27-point win.

The common thread in both games was that while each team looked pretty darn good in their wins, they’ll likely beat themselves up remembering how out of character they were in getting blown out.

“As well as we played last Saturday, we played the opposite defensively today,” coach Mark Fox said. “We really collapsed on the defensive end in the second half.”

The Bears survived a rough first half in part by getting a pair of big baskets from Grant Anticevich before halftime to climb within six points of the Sun Devils. But all that effort to get back in the game disappeared after halftime. The Bears allowed ASU to make 18 of their 28 shot attempts, and couldn’t stop run outs or 3-point attempts.

“When you don’t score and they can fast break on every possession, you’re going to have a hard time getting your defense set,” Fox said.

Previously against Stanford in their 53-39 win, and on February 12 at Oregon in Cal’s last road game, a 78-64 win, the Bears played at a methodical pace, made shots when the game was in doubt, and defended as if they were constructing a fortress in front of the hoop.

Against ASU those same Cal Bears put up little resistance and showed hardly any resolve. With all the attention around the program this week and speculation regarding Fox and his now likely return for a fourth year at the helm, the effort and result looked completely out of place.

Furthermore, the Bears (12-18, 5-14) may not get another opportunity to better present themselves. Saturday’s regular season finale at No. 2 Arizona could be a particularly turbulent experience, and a conference tournament opener currently sees them matched up with either Washington or Washington State. Cal dropped both meetings with those two schools.

D.J. Horne was one of five Sun Devils (13-16, 9-10) to score at least 10 points and led the hosts with 13 points. Marreon Jackson and Jay Heath combined to miss 20 shots in the first meeting between the clubs, this time they contributed 11 and 12 points respectively. Arizona State has won 6 of their last 7 after losing 9 of 11.

“We knew what their game plan was going to be, they ranked last in pace of play,” ASU’s Kimani Lawrence said. “We got bigs and guys on the wings at different positions that can run, putting pressure on defense and getting on the fastbreak benefits our offense.”

Jalen Celestine led Cal with 11 points, and the sophomore was the only Bear to score more than 10 points.

Utah Nips Cal: Bears rally falls short in aggravating 60-58 loss

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–The general rule of thumb is when a Pac-12 opponent is trying to give you something, take it.

But on Saturday afternoon at Haas Pavilion, Utah kept giving and host Bears were slow to take, in a frustrating 60-58 loss.

The Utes survived despite going without a made field goal for six-and-half minutes in the second half and losing leading scorer Branden Carlson to injury. Cal got within two points twice, the first with 19 seconds remaining. But Lazar Stefanovic hit a pair of free throws before Jalen Celestine canned a three with five seconds remaining and Utah escaped.

The Bears missed eight of their last 10 shots, and went more than four minutes without a field goal before Celestine’s 3 in the final seconds. Cal shot just 39 percent from the floor, and missed nine of their 11 3-point attempts after halftime when they needed at least one big shot to draw them closer.

“At the end of the night we’ll look back and realize the consequences of some little mistakes throughout the game were great,” coach Mark Fox said. “We had some little mistakes that you look back that were just back-breaking in a two-point loss.”

Marco Anthony led Utah with 13 points, four rebounds and four assists.

“This season, leading up until now, we’ve been on that other side and there’s been some obstacles,” Anthony said. “But now we’re getting over that hump.”

Lars Thiemann led Cal with 16 points, and Kuany Kuany added 10, but they were the only two Bears to make more than half of their attempted shots.

Jordan Shepherd, who scored 33 in the win at Oregon, had 10 against the Utes and was limited by a hand injury suffered in that previous game. Shepard played 34 minutes Saturday but had just two made baskets. Fox touched on Cal’s limitations in playing without Andre Kelly, their leading scorer who has missed the last seven games with a season-ending ankle injury.

“The issue for us, when Lars goes out, we get small really fast,” Fox said.

Utah and Cal have amazing parallels starting with their 10-game losing streaks. Both teams broke their streaks by beating Oregon State less than a week apart, and have gone on to now record road sweeps with Cal winning twice in Oregon last week and Utah beating Stanford and now Cal this week.

Both teams are 4-13 in league play and tied for 10th place after Saturday’s contest. Each will have three more opportunities to come up with a fifth Pac-12 win or more. For Cal, their best shot at another conference victory comes this Saturday against visiting Stanford.

Second Half Stampede: Colorado bests Cal, 70-62, ends Bears modest win streak

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Five consecutive halves of competitive basketball from the Golden Bears delivered the expected: two wins and a loss.

The loss came Thursday night at Haas Pavilion, 70-62 to Colorado as the Buffs seized control of a close game with a 14-1 run to start the second half. Cal’s 25 percent shooting after the break put an end to what had been a promising start, and a continuation of the club’s strong play during their sweep of the Oregon schools.

“We were pleased with our play on both ends in the first half, and then really disappointed with how we started the second half,” coach Mark Fox said. “We didn’t play well enough in the second half and I thought Colorado took advantage of our defensive play.”

The Bears shot 15 of 29 in the first half and led by seven at the break. But an opportunity was missed in the final minutes when they missed four 3’s and failed to go to halftime with a double-digit lead. The second half started with a string of empty possessions contrasting the Buffs’ aggressiveness that saw them take the ball to the basket repeatedly with success.

“I’m really pleased with the toughness we showed,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “Cal’s a physical team. We had to be tougher and stronger and we played that way.”

Cal’s close of the first half, and their drought to start the second saw them miss 22 of 25 shots. That took the home crowd out of the mix, and left the Bears in a tough spot, entirely of their making according to Fox.

“As soon as adversity hit, we didn’t respond the right way and I was certainly very disappointed in all of us tonight.”

What specifically changed? The Buffs defensive pressure. Cal enjoyed a string of open looks in the first half. That stopped after the break as Colorado gained intensity. And the Bears’ response wasn’t to match the visitors’ energy. That difference was reflected in a 43-28 edge in the rebounding for the visitors, and in Colorado’s 21 made free throws, a benefit of them taking the ball to the basket.

“We clawed our way back in by getting stops,” Boyle said. “We adjusted in the second half and turned it around.”

CU got 19 points each from Jabari Walker and freshman KJ Simpson. Evan Battey added 18.

Jalen Celestine and Grant Anticevich led Cal with just 11 points each, and Kuany Kuany added a season-best 10 in just 18 minutes off the bench.

The Bears continue their home stretch with a 3:00pm meeting with the Utah Utes on Saturday.

Bears Breakthrough: Cal wins at Oregon State, 63-61, ends 10-game losing streak

By Morris Phillips

Throughout a difficult losing skid, and after an injury sidelined their leading scoring for the rest of the season, the Cal Bears kept it together. The payoff for all that focus and belief came Wednesday night.

Maurice Calloo’s improbable miss at the rim that would have sent the game into overtime, allowed the Bears to escape with a 63-61 win in Corvallis over Oregon State. Cal broke their 10-game losing streak, and won for the first time on the road this season.

“These young men weren’t winning but they were functioning like winners so you had to know things would eventually turn around if we did the right thing,” coach Mark Fox said.

The Bears (10-15, 3-11) trailed by one at the half, and never led by more than four points. That led them to a suspenseful conclusion in which Jordan Shepherd’s shot was goaltended with 18 seconds remaining, breaking a 61-61 tie.

Andre Kelly, Cal’s leading scorer who injured January 29 in a loss to USC was declared lost for the season before the game when medical tests on his ankle revealed significant damage. That again forced Fox to rethink his lineups, and depend on a smaller core of performers.

Against OSU, Grant Anticevich, Jalen Celestine, Joel Brown and Shepherd each logged at least 35 minutes, and Cal had to weather their own uneven play at points due to their reliance on the tighter rotation.

Calloo’s 3-pointer with 11:43 remaining put OSU up 47-42, but Cal responded with an 11-2 run to lead 53-49 with 6:47 left.

“We weren’t good defensively to start the second half, but once we strung together some stops, I felt like we settled in,” Fox said.

The Bears took advantage of Oregon State on the glass with 14 offensive rebounds leading to 17 points. That along with 10 steals offset Cal’s 36 percent shooting that was too poor to allow them to sustain any momentum.

Shepherd led Cal with 15 points, and Anticevich had 13 points, eight rebounds. Brown contributed nine points, nine rebounds and seven assists along with a stellar defensive job on OSU’s Jarod Lucas, who scored just two points after halftime.

“I’m super-proud of Joel. He really competed well tonight and I thought he was probably our MVP,” Fox said of Brown. “We had a lot of guys chip in and play well but he was the difference in this one.”

Last season the Beavers (3-18, 1-10) defeated Cal three times, and then the Bears were forced to watch the hosts improbable run, as OSU won the Pac-12 Tournament and advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. But those standout performers that led Oregon State have endured a rough season that’s landed them in last place in the conference.

Warith Alatishe was limited to 24 minutes on Wednesday and finished with seven points, seven rebounds while clearly favoring a previous knee injury.

Calloo led Oregon State with 18 points but missed 10 of his 16 shots from the field.

The Bears travel to Eugene on Saturday to face the Oregon Ducks at 1:00pm.

A Missed Shot Here, A Failed Pass There: Cal comes up short in 68-64 loss to Washington State

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY–The narrowest of Cal’s ten consecutive losses was going to be agonizing under any circumstances, but losing streaks unearth patterns, and the Bears showed their stripes in Saturday’s 68-64 loss to Washington State.

Missed shots, failed passes, empty offensive possessions continue to plague the Bears, whether they commit those errors repeatedly or sparingly, as was the case in a four-point loss to the Cougars that the hosts could have pushed to overtime with a timely bucket in the game’s final minute.

Instead–without the benefit of a timeout to gain composure–Joel Brown got to an advantageous spot on the floor, but missed a nine-footer that was awkwardly released.

Coach Mark Fox referenced the final three minutes, but his team’s 14 turnovers, 14 missed 3’s and 15 fouls–six more than WSU committed–took place over the entirety of the 40 minutes. The biggest of the those mistakes may have been a turnover at mid-court to start the second half, which prompted Fox to call a timeout just 13 seconds in.

“We got a little bit to casual, and that led to a turnover,” said Fox. “All of the little things matter.”

On Cal’s second possession of the half, Kuany Kuany backed down his defender with a lack of urgency, and without an advantage, and the 6’9″ forward was whistled for an offensive foul. In essence, Cal’s afternoon was short circuited in the first two offensive trips after halftime, not in the final minutes, as Fox claimed.

While the root cause of Cal’s defeat may be cause for debate, the reason the Cougars snatched the win was obvious. Washington State has undeniable, offensive acumen typified on Saturday by diminutive guard Michael Flowers.

Flowers, one of the most sought after players to emerge from the transfer portal in the off-season, put up 21 points, making his first, four 3-point attempts, along with four, consecutive made free throws in the game’s final 30 seconds. Early in the second half, Flowers attacked the basket with two Cal defenders waiting, and emerged with a nifty layup on an up-and-under move.

Coach Kyle Smith has turned diminutive guards with offensive talent into stars at Washington State and before that, at USF. He summed up Flower’s contributions while unconsciously hinting at what Cal currently lacks.

“That’s what good players do, they secure rebounds, and make free throws, put those games away, close them out,” Smith said.

The Cougs (14-7, 7-3) captured their first road sweep of Stanford and Cal since 1993. Efe Abogidi contributed 17 points, 11 rebounds and Tyrell Roberts added 12 points.

Cal got a career-best 20 points from Jalen Celestine, along with 16 points, four rebounds from Grant Anticevich in 36 minutes off the bench. Jordan Shepherd was the only Cal starter to score in double figures, but he was 5 for 18 from the floor for 10 points.

Kuany and Sam Alajiki went scoreless after their minutes were curtailed despite both being in the starting lineup.

The Bears (9-15, 2-11) get time to reset before traveling to Oregon for contests with the OSU Beavers on Thursday and Oregon on Saturday.

Dialed In From Distance: Hot-shooting propels Washington past Cal, 84-63

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Remember the awful shooting Huskies that barely survived their non-conference schedule, and suffered embarrassing loses to Northern Illinois and Utah Valley?

That’s not how they roll these days. The Cal Bears can attest to that.

Jamal Bey scored 20 points, and Washington hit 12 of 23 from three in an 84-63 rout of host Cal on Thursday night. The visibly fatigued Bears dropped their ninth straight and their second, consecutive loss at Haas Pavilion by more than 20 points.

“We played like a tired basketball team,” coach Mark Fox said. “We were just a step behind everything. We got to get some rest and regroup.”

Cal (9-14, 2-10) fell behind immediately, trailing 10-2 less than four minutes in. A Washington scoreless stretch of more than four minutes provided the Bears and opening, but they failed to take advantage. With 12:22 remaining in the half, Cal trailed 10-8, but from that juncture the Huskies went from scoreless to bonkers.

Washington (12-8, 7-3) hit 11 of their next 19 shots to lead 38-29 at the break.

The individual scoring for the Huskies progressed like a relay race. Emmitt Mathews Jr. scored UW’s first seven on 3 for 3 shooting, then went quiet. The Pac-12’s leading scorer Terrell Brown Jr. was next with 13 of his 19 before halftime.

Bey, the lone non-transfer among the Huskies’ starters heated up after the break. Daejon Davis, the transfer from Stanford, took his turn after Bey.

The toll? The quartet combined for 27 made baskets, and ten of the Huskies’ 12 3-pointers. Only Brown did his work inside the arc, registering all eight of his buckets from two. And make no mistake, Cal was victimized everywhere, allowing 10 layups, three dunks and 17 fastbreak points.

“We have some tired guys,” Fox said. “They didn’t have the juice tonight.”

Among the teams in Cal’s five game-in-10 days stretch, UW was supposed to offer the respite. Cal’s other four opponents–USC, UCLA, Stanford and Washington State–all have NCAA aspirations, and figured to be merciless. In the lead up, Washington’s conference schedule was labeled as a run through the league’s bottom tier with Arizona the only ranked opponent.

Well, on Thursday, the UW’s run continued; the Huskies have won 7 of 9.

“We’re just coming in with a different mindset,” Davis said when asked about UW’s in-season turnaround. “Everyday there’s a message that goes in our group chat, and it’s ‘Believe.’ And that’s something we’re sticking by and we just want to put together as many wins in a row that we can. And it’s always good to get a road win.”

Obinna Anyanwu led Cal with 10 points, Jalen Celestine added nine in the absence of Andre Kelly, who missed his second straight game with an ankle injury. Jordan Shepherd and Grant Anticevich combined to miss eight attempts from hree.

The Bears will be even more focused on Saturday for Washington State’s visit in hopes of avoiding their streak hitting 10 games. But focus might not mean fresher legs. The 1:00 pm tip comes just 36 hours after Thursday’s meaning the Bears will do more mental gymnastics than on-court conditioning.

“This is a one day prep,” Fox revealed.

Fast Finish: Cal races past Pacific in the second half, wins 73-53 in non-conference finale

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Three seasons into Coach Mark Fox’s Cal tenure, his holiday humor has taken hold. After visiting Pacific closed the first half Wednesday with a 14-2 burst, being humorous wasn’t easy and probably cathartic.

“It was going to be an ugly Christmas at halftime,” Fox conceded.

Fox was left ashen with the Tigers awakening. After suffering under Cal’s attention to defensive detail, Pacific turned a pair of eight-point deficits into a five-point halftime lead. The process was sudden, unexpected and wholly threatening to the big brother school holding a 26-2 advantage in the series between the schools. The process took 6 1/2 minutes and had the Bears reeling.

But then the second half commenced, and the sunshine returned on an ugly, rainy afternoon. The Bears responded decisively with a 48-point second half in a 73-53 win.

Grant Anticevich led the Bears with 25 points, 11 rebounds and a career-best seven 3-pointers. Essentially before Anticevich closed the deal, Jared Celestine (career-best 12 points), Jordan Shepherd and Andre Kelly (11 points each) kept the Bears afloat.

In a game of subtle twists, almost all predicated on defense in the absence of eye-popping offense, Fox pointed to an unlikely turning point with 10:33 remaining and Cal clinging to a two-point lead. If anything was comical, Fox’s declaration displayed it.

“Lars made a couple of big free throws,” Fox said.

Cal increased the pressure a few minutes later with a 21-2 closing run that yielded a 20-point victory.

And what specifically turned the contest into a rout? Probably, Pacific’s lack of resolve, nothing new for a young ballclub who has yet to score more than 67 points in any of its nine losses. That frustration kicks in when you shoot 36 percent in the second half and suffer 13 turnovers.

Jaden Byers led Pacific with 10 points, Jeremiah Bailey and Sam Freeman added eight points a piece. For new coach Leonard Perry, an encouraging six-minute stretch didn’t come with much else to extoll. And yes, the humor was eliminated.

“They’re learning, they’re trying, and it’s been a hard adjustment,” coach Leonard Perry said of UOP’s trajectory. “They stick in there and they compete during practice.”

The Bears established an eight-game home win streak along with momentum leading to their next test, January 2 at Stanford. Can the Bears win on the road, and can they win in the Pac-12?

We’re making progress and now we’ve got to see if we can beat the people in the league,” Fox said.

Rebel Rebel: Cal falls short at UNLV, 55-52 with Bears’ Shepherd held to 9 points

By Morris Phillips

The Bears visit to the Vegas bright lights, and a meeting with the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, hinged on one aspect: 3-point shooting.

The Runnin Rebels attempted more, made more and that allowed them to get past Cal, 55-52 at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Rebels were 10 of 29 from three, the Bears 4 of 14. That and some critical defensive stops in the game’s final two minutes decided a close game.

On Cal’s final possession, leading scorer Jordan Shepherd, who scored 27 points in Cal’s loss to UCSD was rushed into a lengthy 3-point attempt that drew iron but bounced away. Shepherd had a rough afternoon, missing 14 of his 17 shot attempts, and was held to nine points.

“We had about three actions we thought they might do,” UNLV coach Kevin Kruger said. “They guarded it absolutely perfectly.”

Shepherd missed a second 3-point attempt, and had his attempted layup blocked with 27 seconds left. All three stops were part of the Rebels big defensive stand that kept Cal scoreless in the final two minutes.

“We had a layup to win the game. I don’t know if there was contact or not,” coach Mark Fox said.

“That’s the final step for us. Learn how to close a game like this. Certainly I thought our defense was much better than it was the other night.”

Grant Anticevich led Cal with 11 points, 10 rebounds, and Andre Kelly had eight points, eight rebounds and Joel Brown started, and saw 29 minutes of floor time, but finished with seven points, four rebounds.

Cal was limited to 36.8 percent shooting from the floor. The Rebels with their constantly changing personnel groupings, which included four transfer players, stuck with man-to-man principles throughout. The Bears were just as good at their end by harassing UNLV into rushed shot attempts. They played zone predominantly and limited the Rebels to 37.5 percent shooting.

Jalen Celestine and Makale Foreman made their season debuts for Cal, but neither got it going offensively. Celestine played 24 minutes, scoring four points and Foreman was scoreless in six minutes, missing both his shot attempts.

UNLV got 12 points, five rebounds from Bryce Hamilton, and Michael Nuga contributed 10 points, six rebounds.

“We were picked, what were we picked, eighth? We wear UNLV on our chest with pride. We’re here to bring it back to what it once was.”

The Bears host the University of San Diego Toreros on Monday night at Haas Pavilion at 6pm.

Cal breaks losing streak with 71-62 win, and hands Colorado a damaging blow to its NCAA aspirations

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA — A month ago, Colorado handed Cal its worst loss. On Saturday night, the Bears returned the favor.

Matt Bradley scored a career-best 29 points to lead Cal past Colorado, 71-62, snapping their seven-game losing streak in the process. Makale Foreman converted a pair of free throws with 16:58 remaining and the Bears never trailed again, a stunning reversal after the Bears lost by 29 points at Boulder on January 14.

“We played as well as we have all year,” coach Mark Fox said.

Buffs coach Tad Boyle tried to impress upon his club beforehand the sneaky challenge Cal presents in that they’ve piled up the losses while becoming increasingly competitive which they were in losing to Utah 76-75 on Thursday.

Apparently, Boyle’s club didn’t get the message.

“Cal is a team that’s playing better,” Boyle said. “They’re a helluva lot better than their record, I can tell you that. With that being said, this is a game we should have won, but we weren’t good enough tonight.”

“We did a lot of standing around,” said McKinley Wright IV. “The coaches had the perfect scouting report and we just didn’t execute.”

Colorado allowed the Bears to impose their plodding tempo, a task that became a lot easier with Cal getting off to a rare, fast start. The Bears led 10-4, 14-13 and after a long drought, recovered to lead 36-33 at the break. It was freshman Jalen Celestine, making his second start in place of Ryan Betley, that came up big for Cal in that regard.

Celestine scored nine of the Bears’ first 22 points–on three 3-pointers–to energize Cal while also taking the challenge of guarding Wright, a candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year. While Celestine sizzled, Wright was held in check, finishing with 13 points (on 3 of 11 shooting) and two assists.

Bradley seamlessly followed Celestine’s lead with 15 before the break, and 14 after including a critical 3-pointer with 40 seconds that increased Cal’s lead to 65-60. The junior guard was 9 for 17 from the floor and 9 of 10 from the line in surpassing the 20-point mark for the fifth time in his last six games.

Colorado (16-5, 10-5) blew past Stanford on Thursday for their ninth win in 11 games, a run that has them in good standing with the NCAA Tournament selection committee. But should the Buffs falter in games against USC, UCLA or Oregon in their final stretch, earlier losses to Washington (167 in the Pomeroy ratings) and Cal (134) will receive greater scrutiny as bad losses.

“It gives us our fifth (Pac-12) loss and we’re back in the pack,” Boyle said. “Thought we had a chance to compete for a championship. We’ve just got to figure out how win our next one.”

Beating one of the conference’s best teams after nearly a month of losing typified the season for Cal (8-15, 3-13). Not particularly talented by Pac-12 standards, nor tall or deep, the Bears have confounded by staying engaged, when other teams might have splintered. Fox deserves credit for that along with his staff that hasn’t hesitated to shake things up. Celestine’s emergence is one of those moves. After not playing in seven games, and never seeing more than 18 minutes of action in any one game, the freshman played 33 minutes against Colorado.

“We felt like in the game today we could use him defensively against McKinley Wright because he has athleticism and size and he’s got great balance and so defensively I thought he was really good,” Fox explained.

The Bears travel to Washington next with their Pullman stop to face Washington State on Thursday. The battle not to finish last in conference play comes Saturday in Seattle against UW.