Piling Up The Points: Pac-12 champion Arizona looks NCAA Tournament-ready in 89-61 pasting of Cal

By Morris Phillips

Are the Arizona Wildcats the favorite to cut down the nets and win their second National Championship?

If the Cal Bears wanted to be the voice of dissent regarding UA’s chances, they unearthed very little evidence on Saturday afternoon.

No. 2 Arizona (28-3, 18-2) looked the part, shooting a sizzling 62 percent from the floor in dispatching Cal, 89-61 at the McKale Center in Tucson. It didn’t matter that Arizona was playing its fifth game in 10 days, or that they had little to play for after clinching the Pac-12 regular season title on Tuesday at USC.

But what may have most impressive was the Cats put up 89 points despite having to deal with Cal’s plodding pace, and a couple of impressive, but short-lived stretches of play by the Bears.

How’s that possible? Make shots, and Arizona did that in bunches.

Oumar Ballo, the transfer from No. 1 Gonzaga, led the Cats with 16 points on 7 for 7 shooting from the floor. Ballo was the biggest piece of Arizona’s octet of reserves that combined to shoot 18 of 24 from the floor and 7 for 7 from the foul line.

Those bench contributions were the biggest indicator of the hosts’ ability to impose their will. The team picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 before the season literarily outplayed expectations down to their 13th man. Coach Tommy Lloyd, who denied any celebrations prior to Saturday’s final buzzer couldn’t hold back his praise.

“These dudes are unbelievable,” Lloyd said. “What they gave me this year has inspired me to coach forever. They practice their ass off every day and they handle me being on them. It’s such a special group to be around.”

Cal was competitive for the game’s first six minutes, then a 9-0 run for Arizona gave evidence that the visitors were in for a rough ride. The Cats extended their lead to 36-17 on Christian Koloko’s layup with 4:21 remaining at which point the Bears settled in with a 14-4 run to end the half that had them within range, down 40-31 at the half.

But the second half saw Arizona shoot 65 percent and their crowd grow more jubilant with each made basket. Despite their starters playing sparingly UA led by 31 before winning by 28.

“We got a little fatigued and made some costly errors there in the second half defensively,” coach Mark Fox said. “Against a team with as much talent as they have, you cannot afford to do that.”

Jordan Shepherd led Cal (12-19, 5-15) with 16 points. Lars Thiemann had 12 points, five rebounds and Makale Foreman added 11. Thiemann was able to go despite being a gametime decision due to an injury, but starting guard Joel Brown was scratched due to a knee injury.

Cal opens the Pac-12 Tournament on Wednesday with their opponent to be determined after action concludes on Saturday night, with the Washington Huskies as the most likely opponent in a 7 versus 10 matchup.

East Bay Cold Snap: Cal greets Stanford with a chilly reception in 53-39 win

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Cold? Yes, Stanford’s offense at Haas Pavilion on Saturday evening was quite chilly, almost as if the visitors from Palo Alto were stranded outside the building and forced to watch the sunset on a winter night wearing just their uniforms and warm-ups.

That description best mirrors the Cardinal’s evening as they were frozen in place during Cal’s 19-0 run, and limited to 12 points before halftime. Bolstered by a 23-point lead at the break, Cal cruised, winning 53-39 to extinguish their seven-game home losing streak, while gaining a measure of satisfaction against their biggest rival.

Winning after a lengthy streak of rough results didn’t deter the Golden Bears. Instead it strengthened them, according to coach Mark Fox.

“They really haven’t had their confidence shaken,” Fox said. “For the most part they’ve been resilient and regrouped.”

“We just performed at the level we know we’re capable of and moving forward if we can do that consistently we won’t have any problems,” Grant Anticevich said. “I don’t think we played out of character at all.”

The Bears’ 53 percent shooting in the first half carried them as did Jordan Shepherd, who put up 28 points on 11 for 16 shooting. In a game that ultimately will be remembered for missed shots from both teams, Cal’s first half and Shepherd’s bounce back performance were all it took. Shepherd suffered with his injured hand in Cal’s previous contests against Colorado and Utah, failing to score in double-digits both times. But a week without games, and rest, got the graduate transfer back on point.

“Offensively, I thought we got the shots we were looking for,” Fox said. “It’s a terrific win (with a) great environment, terrific fans and a super energy in the building. It was really good for our seniors to finish their home careers this way.”

No other Bears scored more than six points, but the team tallied 12 assists on 22 made baskets, proof that the ball was moving and the offense was executed. An eight minute scoreless drought in the second half didn’t short circuit Cal as their defensive effort maintained consistency. As a result Stanford never mounted a credible response on a night they shot 23.5 percent while losing for the fifth time in six games.

Logan Alters was honored with a starting lineup nod on Senior Night for Cal, and several familiar faces dotted the crowd of more than 8,000.

Jason Kidd, Jerome Randle, Sean Lampley, Theo Robertson and Markhuri Sanders-Frison were among the basketball alumni in attendance. Kidd was in town in advance of his NBA Mavericks playing the Warriors on Sunday, and Randle came to the Bay Area directly from war-consumed Ukraine where he plays professionally.

The Bears conclude their regular season in Arizona with the rematch with ASU up first in Tempe on Thursday at 5:00pm.

Bears Find Safe Passage On The Oregon Trail: Cal completes rare road sweep, shocks the Ducks, 78-64

By Morris Phillips

More than 200 years after the Oregon Trail was established, there were the Golden Bears trapping opponents, and trading their tarnished reputations for new ones draped in respect on Super Bowl weekend.

Yes, winning first at Oregon State, then shocking the NCAA-hopeful Oregon Ducks, 78-64 on Saturday afternoon demands some historical perspective for Cal hoops. The first win for the Bears in Eugene since 2014 was also was biggest win in coach Mark Fox’s tenure in Berkeley. The embattled coach’s remarks afterwards slyly interpreted the occasion.

“This isn’t about me,” Fox said. “This is about trying to re-establish Cal basketball. We came here expecting to win.”

Getting the opportunity to say what you wouldn’t dare say before you stop a crippling, 10-game losing streak is wholly satisfying. Getting to say it in a manner that defends your methods and personality even more so. Fox earned that opportunity on Saturday, and selflessly spread the wealth.

“During that stretch, you find out who’s with you and who’s not,” Fox said of the losing streak’s effect on his team. “And those kids in there never wavered.”

What the Bears accomplished on Saturday was nothing less than shocking in its manner and impact. After a leisurely start that saw the visitors fall behind 12-5, a timeout hatched a 24-0 run that had Cal in control, leading 29-12 with 7:19 remaining before the break. During the timeout, Fox reiterated to his club not to force the issue at the rim with the athletic Ducks, but instead take what Oregon’s zone look would afford.

“We said, take the midrange jumper,” Fox said of his message. “It’s still a good shot in basketball.”

Jordan Shepherd connected from the free throw line extended first, then less than a minute later, Kuany Kuany buried a jumper from nearly the same spot. Sam Alajiki hit a 3, then Lars Thiemann followed with a layup while fouled, and he hit the following free throw.

On the other end, Oregon (16-8, 9-4) committed a pair of turnovers, then missed two 3-pointers. Their Matthew Knight Arena crowd grew quiet, and Cal kept up the onslaught. Ultimately, the Ducks would misfire 10 consecutive shots, and the 3’s that had carried them–Oregon leads the Pac-12 in shooting percentage from distance at 36 percent–would be their worst enemy. Against Cal, the Ducks were 5 for 27 from distance.

“We came out and gave them easy baskets to start the game,” OU coach Dana Altman said. “They got rolling, and we could never get it stopped. And then on offense our ball movement wasn’t good, we missed some open shots and maybe tightened up a bit.”

Shepherd led the Bears (11-15, 4-11) with 33 points on 9 for 15 shooting from the floor. No one else was in double-digits for Cal, Grant Anticevich, Jalen Celestine and Makale Foreman each scored eight points.

The Bears enjoyed a healthy advantage on the glass early, limiting the Ducks to one shot on most possessions. The final rebounding numbers were 36-31 for Cal, but the first half, when the game was decided, greatly favored Cal.

The Bears shot 53 percent for the game, and didn’t allow themselves to be hurt by their 17 turnovers once they gained control.

On Thursday, the Bears get the unique opportunity to further reiterate their resurgence in a meeting with Colorado on Thursday at 6:30pm at Haas Pavilion.

High-Minded Hoopfest on the Hardwood: Stanford outslugs Cal, 57-50

By Morris Phillips

STANFORD, CA–Determined to avoid a bad loss, Stanford got an ugly win.

The Golden Bears got what was left–and not what they were looking for–a seventh, consecutive loss.

That’s what you get on a rare Tuesday in the Pac-12: succinct conclusions, ragged hoops and gutty performances. Throw in Cal’s signature deliberate pace, and this one was hardly memorable, but it was hard fought. The compressed schedule that has Cal (2-9, 9-13) playing five times in 10 days, along with Tuesday’s physical play clearly impacted them in a second half that was controlled by the hosts.

“I do think that we wore down a little bit in the second half,” coach Mark Fox said. “Certainly we missed Andre on the offensive end, but defensively we gave ourselves a chance.”

Powered by a 9-0 run early, Cal led for much of the first half. But the Cardinal’s defense and rebounding eventually became the story. Cal trailed by just one point at the break despite shooting 32 percent from the floor. Better shooting in the second half (38 percent) didn’t propel the Bears, instead they fell victim to Stanford’s insistence on getting the ball to the rim. Cal’s attempts to rally failed as they missed eight of nine 3-point attempts after halftime.

“We talked a lot about pace during halftime and just getting the ball moving, getting downhill off screens,” Stanford’s James Keefe said when asked what changed after the break. “But, I think coach gave us a good plan and we got it going from there. So, I guess you could say stagnant.”

Jaden Delaire and freshman Harrison Ingram led Stanford with 12 points a piece. Spencer Jones and Michael O’Connell each had nine points, and fifth starter Keefe best “embraced the grind” as described by coach Jerod Haase. Keefe finished with eight points and 11 rebounds, and a bunch of hustle plays in an uneven first half that could have saw the Cardinal fall into a hole.

Andre Kelly was absent for the Bears, as a result of his leg injury suffered on Saturday at USC. Lars Thiemann responded with the lengthiest and most impressive outing of his career with 11 points, six rebounds in 32 minutes.

“Lars really did an admirable job,” Fox said. “I was surprised he could go 30 minutes. He’s been our leading scorer and rebounder in practice all year. He just needs confidence to let the game slow down, and that’ll help him get better.”

Jordan Shepherd led Cal with 15 points, but missed 12 of his 17 shots from the floor. Grant Anticevich was reinstated to the starting lineup, but his seven points, seven rebounds weren’t impactful enough, especially in Kelly’s absence.

Washington visits Cal on Thursday, the Bears next opportunity to end a losing streak that has them currently 10th in the conference race ahead of one-win clubs, Oregon State and Utah.

Foul Finish: Bears start fast, but get worn down in 79-72 loss to No. 15 USC

By Morris Phillips

The whistles were unkind, but Isaiah Mobley was just plain rude to the Cal Bears on Saturday.

The Bears hot shooting from game’s opening tip carried them only so far in a frustrating 79-72 loss to No. 15 USC as Mobley and Ethan Anderson rallied the Trojans in a physical contest that was still up for grabs with two minutes remaining.

The 6’10” Mobley (24 points) and Memphis transfer Boogie Ellis (21 points, five assists) came up with career-best scoring performances to help navigate the Trojans through a slow start that saw them trail by 11 early, and lead by just two points with 2:21 left.

“Cal played outstanding offensive basketball,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “They made shot after shot and competed at a high level. They played well. It took everything we had.”

The Bears (9-12, 2-8) dropped their seventh straight contest, and still haven’t won on the road in six tries. Their 50 percent shooting, including eight made 3’s kept them in it, but the size disparity between the teams showed at the free throw line where the Trojans made 21 of 28. The free throws made and attempted were both season-bests for the hosts.

“We did a lot of good things, but we just didn’t close it and again we just got murdered at the free-throw line, and that’s the difference in the game,” coach Mark Fox said.

The Bears made eight of their first ten shots and led 20-9. They were still leading 27-18 and shooting 69 percent from the floor when USC responded. Ellis and Mobley contributed 11 points in USC’s 21-4 run that gave them a 39-31 lead with 1:40 to go before halftime.

The Trojans led 41-35 at the half despite Cal’s 54 percent shooting.

“I wish we could have held the lead there at the half. We just couldn’t quite do it under the circumstances,” said Fox, who sensed USC could grow tight if Cal maintained the lead, and threatened to deal USC consecutive losses after Stanford stunned them on Thursday.

Makale Foreman led Cal with 13 points in just 12 minutes on the floor. Jalen Celestine, Andre Kelly and Jordan Shepherd each scored 12.

Kelly embodied Cal’s biggest adjustment from Thursday’s drubbing at UCLA to their resurgence offensively at USC by taking quick-hitting entry passes to the basket before the taller Trojans could react. Kelly converted a jumper in the lane just 13 seconds into the second half to draw the Bears closer, down 41-37.

But Kelly wasn’t around for the finish. He suffered a leg or ankle injury with 11 minutes remaining and departed. Joel Brown also was absent for the game’s conclusion after he fouled out despite playing just 13 minutes.

Cal’s quest for a first win on the road, and a first against a ranked opponent continued despite the absences. Ellis’ consecutive baskets gave USC their biggest lead of eight, but Cal responded with five straight points to cut the deficit 63-60 with 7:08 remaining.

And again the Bears sliced the Trojans 67-60 advantage to two with consecutive baskets from Celestine and Foreman that brought the Bears within two points with 3:26 remaining.

In the end, the Bears couldn’t draw any closer. Grant Anticevich missed a pair of shots in the game’s final two minutes, finishing 3 of 13 from the floor as the team’s normal late game go-to guy couldn’t escape his shooting slump.

On Tuesday, Cal visits Stanford in a rescheduled contest that has the Bears playing five times in a 10-day stretch.

Westwood Wizardry: UCLA still a mystery to Cal, Bruins win 10th straight in series, 81-57

By Morris Phillips

Really good teams don’t have just one method to land themselves in the win column. Whether it’s stifling defense, uncanny shot making or tabbing unlikely contributors, No. 7 UCLA has a full bag. Cal got a second look inside that bag on Thursday at Pauley Pavilion, and apparently they still haven’t digested what all’s in there.

Without leading scorer Johnny Juzang, who was placed in COVID protocols earlier in the day, UCLA was still downright offensive, routing Cal, 81-57, their 10th consecutive win in the series dating back to 2017.

UCLA managed just 60 points in their win on January 8 at Berkeley, but in front of their home crowd and with their kind Pauley rims, they zoomed to 81 points, shooting 53 percent from the floor.

“We have to find some answers,” coach Mark Fox said. “Our defense is absent right now, and we have to find it.”

Jamie Jaquez Jr. led the Bruins (15-2, 7-1) with 15 points, one of five players to score in double figures. Jake Kyman, a 6’7″ reserve took advantage of his increased playing time in Juzang’s absence, scoring in double figures (10 points) for the first time this season.

“We have a really deep team. When guys have opportunities, they step up,” Jaquez said. “Guys like Jake and David (Singleton) really stepped up and helped us get this W.”

The Bears (9-11, 2-7) dropped their sixth straight with a visit to equally formidable USC up next on Saturday. Cal made shots early, and finished the first half shooting 50 percent, but they couldn’t sustain it. Along with 14 turnovers–many on careless passes–the Bears failed to establish any interior scoring with Andre Kelly. That led to tough perimeter shots and just seven free throw attempts.

“We have to be able to make 3-point shots to open up the interior,” Fox conceded.

“We didn’t have eight blocks like the other night, but the 14 steals,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “Embracing trying to disrupt Cal’s offense. Play harder, run harder, talk more, be more physical, rebound harder. Those are the things that separate programs. Winners know why they win. Other teams blame their coaches, their teammates.”

Kelly was limited to four shot attempts and six points. Jordan Shepherd scored nine points, but missed eight shots. Grant Anticevich came off the bench due to his scoring slump. The change of scenery wasn’t much help, the super senior went scoreless in 19 minutes.

On the bright side, Fox liked that his freshman trio of Sam Alajiki, Marsalis Roberson and Obinna Anyanwu got valuable minutes and showed flashes. Don’t expect any of the three to land in the starting lineup anytime soon, although Alajiki started in place of Anticevich. Fox simply won’t tolerate the mental mistakes young players are likely to commit.

“They have length, and a level of athleticism that will really help us, but right now they can’t grow fast enough,” Fox said.

Arizona Uber Alles: No. 3 Wildcats rude guests in runaway, 96-71 win

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Cal fans showed up, and Coach Mark Fox left early. Talk about both being out of character.

No. 3 Arizona has a way of leaving opponents, and others, twisted. The Wildcats are that good, that devastating, reference their wire-to-wire, 96-71 win on Sunday afternoon at Haas Pavilion.

“If you look at the completeness of their team with multiple bigs, terrific shooting, an outstanding wing, depth, they are playing like the best team,” Fox admitted. “Their margins of victory.. like today was obviously big, but that’s what it’s been. They’ve been dominant.”

Arizona (16-1,6-0) hit the gas so quickly, skid marks could be seen near the Haas entry ways. They led 17-3, 34-16 and 46-26 a minute after Fox lost his composure, drawing a second technical and an ejection. Cal’s Jordan Shepherd missed his first seven shots, and the Bears misfired on five attempts from distance, part of 7 for 30 shooting to start that left them in a big hole.

“It’s what you hope for on the road, that you come out and from start to finish your team is solid and they execute the plan,” first-year Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “We did a really good job of dictating what they were doing on the offensive end, and then on our end of the floor getting into our movement.”

Talent? The Wildcats have it abundance. Their top eight scorers–with Bennedict Mathurin (17.3 ppg) leading, and Pelle Larsson (6.4) trailing–are all capable of big scoring nights, when needed, on demand. Against Cal, Mathurin struggled (3 of 9 from the floor) as Christian Koloko took over the paint (19 points, 13 rebounds) in the absence of 6′ 11″ Azoulas Tubelis, Arizona’s second leading scorer. Larsson got a turn in the starting lineup and was impressive on both ends. He finished with nine points and two assists in 21 minutes.

Cal’s shrewd plan to get Shepherd going from the perimeter first to then provide space for Andre Kelly and opportunities for Grant Anticevich was immediately foiled. Arizona’s length at the guard spots and quick feet defensively bothered Cal like 16 Wildcats opponents were bothered before.

With assistant Chris Harriman directing the club, the Bears benefitted from Arizona’s careless ball handling to open the second half, but the visitors’ transition game kicked in and Cal trailed 66-40 with 12:56 remaining.

Shepherd led Cal (9-10, 2-6) with 21 points, rebounding from his scoreless start. Kelly and Makale Foreman added eight points each.

The Bears have dropped five straight, three straight at home, with three, tough road games to follow. The Bears have yet to win a road game this season, losing all four to date.

UCLA looms as Cal’s next opponent on Thursday, the Bears’ opportunity to display all the wisdom gleaned from a 60-52 loss on January 8 in Berkeley. The problem is the No. 9 Bruins aren’t coming off a three-week break due to COVID this time, and are unlikely to start sluggishly playing at home.

WE STAYED. COACH YOU HAVE TO STAY TOO: All season, coach Mark Fox has wanted to combine his team’s hustle and flow with an intimidating, loud Haas Pavilion atmosphere. COVID has disrupted his plans, from the canceled and rescheduled games to the stringent vaccination requirements for fans in the building.

Sunday’s gathering of 7,582 represented a breakthrough for attendance this season, despite the hastily arranged gametime layered on top of some pretty, compelling nationally-televised NFL games. But when the game turned lopsided soon after it began, the fans never got a chance to make their presence felt.

Fox had his hand on the proceedings, but he let the referees get involved contrary to the coach’s better judgment.

“My frustration wasn’t just about tonight. My frustration was (about) some things that built up to it,” he said. “The official decided, like in third grade, to instigate a staring contest and, like in third grade, I took the bait and got my second technical and put our team in a tough spot.”

Fox picked up his initial technical two minutes before the second. Afterwards, he framed his actions as positive, saying “if I have to lead the fight, sign me up.”

Others might say his actions weren’t a sign of leadership. Regardless of how his actions were perceived, he’s got two bigger issues, only one that enhances his future in Berkeley: he’s maintained team unity and focus under the most trying of circumstances, but Fox has not reached the baseline for recruiting in a conference driven by talent as much as exemplary coaching.

Huskies Find Clear Sledding: Washington’s big run carries them past Cal, 64-55

By Morris Phillips

No, Alaska Airlines Arena wasn’t the place to find a pair of polished products on Wednesday night, but for either Washington or Cal, making a noticeable step in that direction was a reasonable goal.

Put together 40 minutes of cohesive basketball, find bursts of offense from a defensive-minded group, and beat a vulnerable opponent on the road?

Apparently, the Bears aren’t quite ready to do that just yet.

Washington rode a late, 15-0 run, largely fueled by referee whistles that didn’t favor Cal, to a 64-55 win, proving the hosts are closer to competency within the challenging Pac-12 landscape.

“Our defense wasn’t as good,” coach Mark Fox said of the decisive second half that saw Cal outscored 37-21. “We turned the ball over another eight times in the second half. And we couldn’t score.”

The Bears didn’t start well either. They missed eight of their first 12 shots, and committed seven turnovers in the first 12 minutes. The Huskies better navigated the early minutes with a balanced attack that only needed two points from leading scorer Terrell Brown Jr. A steal and breakaway dunk from Daejon Davis put UW up 21-13 at the 8:09 mark.

Cal was without starting point guard Joel Brown who was not with the team, and left back in Berkeley with an undisclosed illness. Jarred Hyder started in Brown’s place. Sparkplug Sam Alajiki returned after missing the previous, two games, and Kuany Kuany returned to the starting lineup after playing in reserve against UCLA. Fox called Kuany’s one-game demotion a teaching moment.

Aided by reserves Alajiki, Jared Celestine and Lars Thiemann, the Bears found their groove in the final minutes of the half. A 10-1 run gave them the lead, and they didn’t stop there. The visitors built a seven-point, halftime lead, and briefly led by nine to open the second half.

At that point Brown turned it up a notch, and brought the crowd’s energy with him. The Seattle native responded with 18 of his 21 points after the break, apparently the result of his coaches and teammates getting him in the right frame of mind during earlier timeouts.

“Everybody kept giving me confidence,” Brown said. “Coach Hop told me to play basketball. They’re going to junk it up, but you can junk it up too and find different areas to attack. It was just me playing free.”

Cal clung to a lead until eight minutes remained, but the 15-0 run wiped them out, leaving them in a 62-51 disadvantage with 3:37 left. Within the run, Kuany drew a flagrant foul call for having his arms horizontal, not vertical, after securing a rebound, but contacting P.J. Fuller’s face trying to avoid being stripped. That led to a pair of made free throws, and possession for Washington. They maxed that with Brown’s flashy spin and jumpshot that left Kuany flailing and the crowd howling with pleasure.

“His feet kind of just left him and I’m watching the ball go up in the air and I see it rolling around and I’m like, ‘that’s going in.'” Davis said of Brown and Kuany’s viral moment.

The Bears managed just one more made basket in the final minutes–from Shepherd with 16 seconds left–and never really made noise. The ending seemed surreal because the Bears disappeared so completely.

Cal attempted just five free throws, a season low, and leading scorer Andre Kelly took seven shots and was limited to four points.

“There were some guys in uncomfortable positions,” Fox said. “That’s the hand we’re dealt right now. We’re going to have to figure out how to play without a couple guys.”

Cal concludes their Northwest swing in Pullman against a talented, high-scoring Washington State team on Saturday at 1:00pm.

Bedeviled in Berkeley: Arizona State sees their mastery of Cal end in a 74-50 defeat at Haas Pavilion

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Arizona State figured to be stuck in traffic dealing with the nationally-ranked Bruins and Trojans in Los Angeles this weekend. Instead, the Sun Devils surfaced in serene, socially distanced Haas Pavilion and got their forks handed to them in an very unceremonious manner by the Cal Bears.

Oh, the irony? Yes, the irony.

The suddenly ascendant Bears put together their best 40 minutes of basketball this season, and throttled ASU, 74-50, bringing an end to the Sun Devils’ seven-game win streak in the series between the schools.

“We did defend well, we did play very well on offense, and we did rebound it pretty well,” coach Mark Fox said. “So we did a lot a really good things and it’s a complete performance for us, but not as complete as it could have been. But you know what, our team competed well and I was really proud of them for that.”

Competitive? Complete performance? Suddenly the Bears–undefeated at home, and miraculously avoiding the pitfalls of COVID protocols–aren’t the club picked to finish last in the Pac-12. Instead they’re credible defensively, and meticulously prepared. Arizona State found out right away as Cal zoomed to a 41-23 halftime lead fueled by a 7-0 advantage in made 3-pointers. Fox hated that his Bears squandered some free throw opportunities early, missing five of their first seven, but the disparity beyond the arc was undeniable.

“It was the difference in the ballgame,” Fox said.

Cal suffered some hiccups in the first five minutes of the second half, but took off again after that, maintaining their big lead and unleashing some new weapons in the process.

Lars Thiemann, literally Cal’s biggest project, showed out by hanging near the rim and making himself available for easy shot attempts. The seven-footer routinely fumbled as many passes as he caught previously. But hard work has paid off. Fox spoke of the hours Thiemann has put in, not to mention the reminders the Cal coaching staff provided during breaks in Sunday’s game. Thiemann came up with all seven of his points in the second half, allowing Cal to ultimately pad their lead, while giving them a clear, size advantage on the smallish Sun Devils.

Sam Alajiki, who previously wowed the Bears coaching staff with his defensive presence, also contributed to the Bears’ hot stretch. Alajiki entered the game, and immediately canned a three, stretching Cal’s lead to 52-33 with 11:45 remaining.

The Bears were led by Jordan Shepherd with 16 points, Andre Kelly added 13, and Grant Anticevich had 10 points, 10 rebounds. Arizona State got 17 points from sophomore D.J. Horn, but no other ASU player tallied more than nine as their horrible 32 percent shooting from the floor doomed the visitors from the start.

“We know it’s not one guy who’s going to do it all for us,” Kelly said. “If one guy is not necessarily having his best night then we have a good deep team so a lot of people can step up and make good plays,” Kelly said. 

Cal shot 51 percent from the floor and outrebounded ASU 38-32. The Bears stayed undefeated at home, and improved to 9-5, 2-1 in the Pac-12 with the win. And now the Bears get their shot at the top ten Southern California schools both of whom have been impacted by COVID and will visit Berkeley during a compacted schedule of three games in five days.

“We need four times the number of people to show up,” Fox said while acknowledging the 2,974 fans that showed up Sunday, including the coach’s wife and daughter who were pressed into duty as staffers to aid the hastily arranged home game.

Cal hosts USC on Thursday at 8pm, and UCLA on Saturday at 5pm at Haas Pavilion.

Bear Down: Defense carries Cal past Dartmouth 61-55, but Foreman suffers significant injury

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Coach Mark Fox wasn’t joking around. In his mind, Dartmouth’s Brendan Berry, the Ivy League’s 3-point savant, was comparable to Steph Curry.

And Fox’s concern didn’t end with Barry. Secondary threats Taurus Samuels and Ryan Cornish were also capable of big shooting nights, so Fox made a choice, and a commitment.

“Dartmouth is a great three-point shooting team,” said Fox. “Our objective was to take away the three-point shot even at the expense of giving up some two-point shots, and ultimately we did a pretty good job of that.”

Never mind that the Big Green had suffered five, consecutive losses including an embarrassing late game collapse at Stanford on Thursday, resulting in an overtime loss. And Fox didn’t overplay Cal’s success at Haas Pavilion, where they were looking for a sixth, consecutive win. Instead the Cal coach was seeking some certainty that wasn’t rooted in modest winning or losing streaks. To him, a defensive strategy that emphasized his club’s fast improving defense was the path to take, with entertainment value barely a concern.

“Our defense was consistent enough to win,” Fox reiterated. “It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it.”

Cal stopped Barry cold in his tracks, limiting Dartmouth’s leading scorer to 10 points, and misses on five of his six 3-point attempts. Cornish and Samuels didn’t fare any better, failing to make even one three between them. And Cal kicked in a decisive effort on the glass as well, spearheading their 61-55 win on Sunday afternoon.

Jordan Shepherd led Cal with 11 of his 18 points after the halftime break. Andre Kelly added 14, and Grant Anticevich came up big with seven points and a career-best 15 rebounds.

Cal took its first lead, 22-21, with 4:23 remaining before halftime. The Bears led by four at the break, and saw their advantage grow to as much as 12 midway through the second half. But this was a struggle with Cal’s offensive numbers–42 percent shooting, and 26 percent from three–not much sexier than the visitors.

But in the end Fox was pleased, with a couple of caveats. Those misgivings began with Makale Foreman’s foot injury that likely will leave him sidelined indefinitely. When Foreman was felled in the second half–a reoccurrence of a previous injury–that put tremendous pressure on the rest of the Cal rotation. While Cal got meaningful contributions from Jalen Celestine, Sam Alajiki and Jared Hyder, Shepherd’s minutes spiked, causing concern.

“Jordan Shepherd played a massive number of minutes, and we’ll have to get some relief there.”

The Bears conclude their non-conference schedule on Wednesday when Pacific of Stockton visits Haas Pavilion. The Tigers suffered a lopsided 77-67 home loss to UC Davis on Sunday, a game in which the Tigers trailed 41-21 at the break.