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.