Rough Road: Cal comes up short after halftime again, loses 65-57 at WSU

By Morris Phillips

The road trip that causes the most headaches in the Pac-12 starts in Seattle on a Thursday and leaves you feeling unsettled in Pullman, Washington on Saturday afternoon.

Bad weather, rough flight, slick roads and a quirky opponent in a mostly empty arena throw you off balance, and likely the Washington Huskies shook your confidence as well. Conference ballclubs aren’t at their best after going through the Northwest curveball machine.

The Bears were the latest testees who survived the first half, but finally slipped late in the second, losing 65-57 to Washington State. Cal was swept for the second weekend in a row and had issues trying to score in all four losses. On Saturday, coach Mark Fox was disappointed with the team’s rebounding, and not limiting the Cougars’ opportunities.

“I think it’s the third game in a row on the road where we had the lead at the half and we talked about trying to close it and finish it, and we just didn’t defensive rebound,” Cal coach Mark Fox said. “We forced some misses, we gave up a rebound on free throw that cost us three.”

The back breaking sequence came with 2:52 and WSU’s Michael Flowers at the foul line shooting one-and-one. Flowers missed the first one but WSU rebounded and swung the ball to Flowers for an open three that he buried, extending the lead to five.

“We just didn’t do the right things to close the game in the second half,” Fox said.

Cal scored just 10 points after Andre Kelly got them even at 47 with 9:19 remaining. Flowers contributed 11 of his 13 points in the second half, and Andrej Jakimovski paced the Cougars with 18 points.

In seven of Cal’s nine losses–and three of the last four games–they’ve scored 60 points or fewer.

Cal starting guard Joel Brown attempted to fly from the East Bay to Pullman on Saturday morning after he cleared COVID restrictions that left him home isolation for seven days. Brown arrived after the game started and played just one minute when it became apparent he couldn’t ramp it up after a week without physical activity or basketball.

“You just take a roll of the dice and say, ‘Is it going to be like he can just step in here and we keep rolling?'” Fox said. “And you can tell he wasn’t ready and out of synch and understandably so.”

Shepherd led Cal with 17 points, Kelly had 12 and a season-best 14 rebounds.

The Bears return home to Haas Pavilion to face No. 6 Arizona on January 23 at noon.

Cal more competitive but too repetitive in 76-70 rematch loss to Stanford

By Morris Phillips

In order to make the most idiotic tip time in televised sports history make any kind of sense, the Cal Bears had to do one thing:

Stay competitive with Stanford for the first 15 minutes of Sunday night’s game, enough time for Tom Brady to accept his latest Super Bowl MVP trophy and then have insatiable sports fans (and gamblers) turn their attention to the Bay rivalry and–with Cal making a game of it–keep their attention.

Guess what? At roughly 7:45pm PST, the Bears were doing their part.

And then they weren’t.

Tied at 22 with 4:24 remaining before halftime–after Joel Brown’s high-difficulty flip in at the rim–Cal went to a dark place, not unlike Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. A 22-4 run spanning the halves put the visiting Bears in an insurmountable hole, with the result, a 76-70 loss that a got a prettier final score in the frantic, final two minutes.

In a repeat of Thursday’s loss at Haas Pavilion, the Bears were overmatched inside where Stanford scored 42 of their first 66 points in the paint on drives, dump-ins with a few dunks mixed in between. With Cal’s defense providing little resistance, a late run and a spirited effort was rendered as a footnote.

“Our defense is not at the level it needs to be to win, especially on the road,” coach Mark Fox said.

“We just can get enough stops consecutively to get us over the hump.”

Stanford made 60 percent of their shots over the first 30 minutes of the game before finishing at 58 percent. In what is now a six-game losing streak for the Bears–the longest skid under Fox–their opponent made at least half their shots from the floor for the fourth consecutive game.

Worse was Cal’s rudder less offense which shot 37 percent after a 36 percent mark on Thursday. The Bears again settled more often than not, with no free throws attempts in the first half and 16 misses from 3-point range.

An 11-4 edge in offensive rebounds for Cal seemed impressive, but ultimately it just added to their missed shot total.

“I thought we played hard,” Fox said. “It’s the intelligence we have to attach to that effort.”

That effort showed in the final two minutes when Cal cut a 15-point deficit to six, but even that push had to do with Stanford missing just enough free throws to irritate bettors who had Stanford minus 10.

Matt Bradley led Cal with 15 points. Jarred Hyder had 13 (in his best scoring output as a Bear), Ryan Betley and Brown added 12 each.

Oscar da Silva, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, led Stanford with 19 points.

Cal hosts Utah–the last team they beat three weeks ago in Salt Lake City–on Thursday afternoon.

Cal blows double-digit lead in search of their first Pac-12 win, loses Bradley to injury

By Morris Phillips

Oregon State trailed Cal for 32 minutes Saturday afternoon but finished the game on a 10-1 run to beat the visiting Bears, 73-64.

The surprising outcome in which Cal blew a 11-point lead with less than 17 minutes remaining to remain winless in Pac-12 competition at 0-4 came amid the backdrop of COVID absences for Oregon State and the early departure of Cal’s leading scorer Matt Bradley with an ankle injury.

“We really had a difficult time without Matt,” said coach Mark Fox, who watched Bradley limp off three minutes before halftime. “Even though we played without him a week ago, it’s little harder against Pac-12 competition. That being said, if we make our free throws, we win the game. So disappointed in our performance at the free-throw line, and obviously in the second half we didn’t play nearly as well as we need to play to win on the road.”

The Bears shot 63 percent in establishing a 36-26 halftime lead, but saw their shooting cool considerably in the second half. More damaging was Cal’s defense which allowed 43 of OSU’s 73 points in the final 17 minutes, and their awful free throw shooting (14 of 28).

Ethan Thompson led OSU with 16 points. Maurice Calloo added 14 points, all of which came after halftime. Calloo’s third 3-pointer with 40 seconds remaining increased the Beavers’ lead to 68-63.

Oregon State played without center Roman Silva and three assistant coaches due to COVID protocols which left the Beavers thin inside and head coach Wayne Tinkle no coaches to interact with. The COVID issues caused OSU’s game against Stanford on Thursday to be postponed until this Monday afternoon.

Makale Foreman, Andre Kelly and Jarred Hyder each tallied 12 points to lead Cal (5-6, 0-4). Foreman’s 3-pointer got Cal even, 63-63 with 3:22 remaining but Cal would manage just one made free throw after that as OSU took control.

The Bears lost for the second time at Gill Coliseum, having lost to the Beavers on November 25 in a hastily-arranged non-conference game. This one was much more competitive, but left greater frustration. The Bears likely will be without their top two scorers, Bradley and Grant Anticevich (appendectomy) for an indefinite period. Along with their issues against conference teams, they could be in for a continued rough stretch.

“It’s a challenge at both ends,” Fox said.

The Bears return to Berkeley with games against the Washington schools in the coming week.

REVISITING CAL’S RECENT PAST: The Bears welcomed Coach Mark Fox less than two years ago. At the same time, former coach Wyking Jones, and scholarship athletes Justice Sueing, Connor Vanover and Darius McNeill departed.

Two seasons prior to that shakeup coach Cuonzo Martin accepted a significant raise to coach the Missouri Tigers and leave Cal.

So what’s everybody up to?

On Saturday Martin’s 12th-ranked Tigers visited Arkansas, Vanover’s landing spot under coach Eric Musselman. Missouri kept things rolling with a 81-68 win to improve to 7-1. Martin’s fourth season in Columbia appears to be his best yet with the Tigers ranked and looking to make a second NCAA tournament appearance after two losing seasons.

And Vanover? Well he suffered his worst game, shooting 0 for 11 with just four points from the foul line. The 7’3″ center is averaging 9.6 ppg in 20 minutes for the Razorbacks.

After starting at Cal, McNeill is coming off the bench at SMU. The Mustangs have played just six games due to COVID issues, and McNeill missed one of those, but he had his best game earlier this week against Temple with 17 points.

Sueing saw action in all 63 games as a freshman and sophomore at Cal, averaging 14 ppg shooting 43 percent from the floor. But he seems better situated at No. 25 Ohio State as a starter on a far better and more balanced team scoring 11 ppg with 50 percent shooting. His minutes are down, but his wins are way up. In two seasons at Cal, Sueing, Vanover and McNeill were 16-47 with 31 Pac-12 losses.

Jones, the coach of those two Cal teams, remains on the sidelines, opting not to take any other coaching jobs after being let go by Cal with one season remaining on his deal.

No. 21 Oregon methodically (and patiently) dismantles Cal, 82-69

By Morris Phillips

The Oregon Ducks don’t have a center or frontline size typical of Power 5 teams. They also don’t have a traditional point guard. And they came into Thursday’s contest with Cal lacking continuity as their previous game against UCLA was canceled due to COVID concerns.

What they do have is loads of talent directed by record-setting coach Dana Altman, which makes them a problem, an assessment with which the Bears would certainly agree.

The Ducks afforded Cal some open looks early which translated into one seven-point lead in the first half and a four-point lead early in the second half. But that was it, after Cal’s second lead the No. 21 Ducks responded in a big way while coasting to a 82-69 win.

“I thought the first half we played really confidently and we competed well throughout the night,” Bears coach Mark Fox said. ”In the second half, we just had a drought. We put so much pressure on our defense.”

Matt Bradley returned to the Cal lineup after missing two games and put up an efficient 21 points to pace his team. But as the game progressed Oregon’s defense did too, eventually shutting down Bradley and others while forcing a slew of turnovers, with nine of Cal’s 17 giveaways after halftime.

Eugene Omoruyi was the central figure in discombobulating Cal with five steals to go with a game-best 26 points. Despite being listed at 6’6″, Omoruyi was dominant inside, setting up shop near the baseline and attacking Cal at the basket relentlessly, so much so Cal’s 7-foot center Lars Thiemann fouled out in just 18 minutes of floor time.

“I thought Eugene did a lot of good things and the five steals – his activity there was really good,” said head coach Dana Altman. “He was really unstoppable inside.”

Without size or an offensive catalyst, the Ducks rely on their defense to create a bunch of good things. That took place Thursday, it just took basically a half to materialize which may have been due to the Ducks’ unusually long 11-day layoff.

Over the final 12:45, Oregon stretched their narrow lead to 13 while limiting Cal to 20 points.

The Ducks won for the 27th consecutive time at Matthew Knight Arena, and beat Cal for the eight consecutive time dating back to February 2016. Altman kept his name moving up the all-time wins list for coaches with his 676th in 31 plus seasons at the Division I level. Next up in 22nd place with 677 wins, Altman will equal former Cal coach Mike Montgomery.

The Bears (5-5, 0-3) next play at Oregon State on Saturday, a team they’ve already lost to this season in early December. The Bears have a ceiling to break through with conference losses to Arizona State, UCLA and Oregon along with the loss to OSU that doesn’t count in the Pac-12 standings.

Cal gets past Seattle U. in the game’s final minutes, 70-65

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Handpicked opponents with balky jump shots and limited confidence delivered to your main gym entrance at a moment’s notice?

Well, this isn’t Grubhub or Uber Eats, the Golden Bears can testify to that.

Instead of skating through the promenade entrance of the Conte Forum on the Boston College campus in near freezing temperatures, the Cal Bears heeded the words of their local medical experts, and spent Tuesday afternoon close to home at Haas Pavilion. After canceling with BC, the Redhawks from Seattle agreed to be Cal’s opponent in a hastily arranged matchup.

However, the Redhawks didn’t agree to be pliable or vulnerable–anything but.

Coach Jim Hayford saw his Redhawks lead for the game’s first 33 minutes only to go scoreless for five of the final six minutes allowing Joel Brown and the Bears to seize control in a 70-65 win.

“It came right down to the last four minutes and you have to credit Joel Brown,” Hayford said. “His two threes were clutch and  at the end of the shot clock after we played really good defense. He made the two winning plays that really were the difference in this game.”

The Bears again played without leading scorers Matt Bradley and Grant Anticevich. That meant others had to step up and Brown, Kuany Kuany along with Ryan Betley answered the call.

Betley led the Bears with 17 points, but Kuany’s contribution (11 points tying his career best) was a welcome surprise as was Brown’s star turn down the stretch.

With the shot clock almost expired, Brown hit a 3-pointer to put Cal up 60-59 with 3:31 remaining. Then after both teams fell into neutral offensively for several possessions, Brown struck again with a three that put Cal up 63-59 with 2:01 remaining.

“Those were huge baskets for us, no question about it,” coach Mark Fox said of Brown.

Brown’s baskets were part of a 10-0 run that saw the Bears go from down two to up eight with 31 seconds to go.

In the closing run, reliable Redhawks Riley Grigsby (20 points, son of former Cal standout Alfred Grigsby), Emeka Udenyi (prepped at De La Salle Concord) and Darrion Trammell (St. Ignatius San Francisco) missed big shots, ending what had been an impressive afternoon for the trio.

The Bears (5-4, 0-2) are over .500 for the first time in over a year. They next see action on New Years Eve at Oregon in a matchup with the conference favorite Ducks.