Cal Goes Cold: Colorado advances to Pac-12 quarters with 56-51 win

photo by Shawn McCullough

By Morris Phillips

Defense had the Cal Bears sniffing an upset in Las Vegas Wednesday afternoon. But their ineffective offense couldn’t close the deal.

The Bears fell 56-51 to Colorado in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament ending their season, and a three-game win streak that created belief the last place club could keep it rolling. But 34 percent shooting was no way to support a spirited defensive effort that forced the Buffs into 23 turnovers.

“We forced them into 23 turnovers. A team that typically takes care of the ball,” said coach Wyking Jones. “We were very active, very active defensively. What really hurt us is giving up ten offensive rebounds, out-rebounded us. It’s hard to win a basketball game when you get out-rebounded by that margin.”

While Jones was encouraged–certainly with how his team responded after 16 consecutive losses–he and his Bears were going home early. Colorado’s Tad Boyle got his team to Thursday’s quarterfinals, but the veteran coach noted they’ll have to play better to survive.

“I’ll say this about Cal, they’re much more active in their zone,” said Boyle in anticipation of a matchup with Oregon State. “I think their zone has gotten better since we played them in Berkeley. They do shoot gaps. They get their hands on balls. They’re very active in the zone. We didn’t really react as well as we needed to. But hopefully that will help us tomorrow.”

While the Bears frenetic defense forced turnovers, Colorado’s defense and rebounding had a more lasting effect, starting with the Buffaloes 13-2 run in the first half that gained momentum through the Bears’ repeated missed shots. Dylan Kountz’ steal and a dunk put Colorado up 23-14 with 4:51 remaining. That run didn’t bury the Bears, but they never drew even after that, only managing to cut the lead to two on a couple of occasions early in the second half.

“I just felt like the drought affected us, even though we still held them to a decent percentage–(Colorado) only shot 43 percent from the field–but we didn’t have the same kind of energy that we would have if we hadn’t had those scoring droughts.”

The Bears will likely spend the off-season looking for offense on the recruiting trail, as that aspect again let them down. But their defensive inprovement–once ranked 310th nationally–was noticeable on Wednesday and during the modest three-game win streak.

Struggling Arizona experiences few issues with defenseless Cal

By Morris Phillips

The struggling Arizona Wildcats hadn’t won a game in three weeks, but those issues didn’t persist with the Cal Bears visiting McKale Center Thursday night.

The Bears shooting percentage defense ranks just above the bottom of the spectrum in 353-member Division I basketball, which brings into question whether a team playing defense on par with Elon or Houston Baptist can stop a traditional powerhouse like Arizona, even if they’re going through one of their roughest stretches with seven, consecutive losses.

Well, based on what transpired between the Bears and Wildcats, the answer is no. Arizona started slow, missing it share of shots in what was an ugly game offensively, but an 11-0 run early in the second half propelled them to an easy 76-51 victory.

So while Arizona’s offense struggled, it wasn’t to the degree that Cal’s offense did, as 30 percent shooting made it impossible for the Bears to gain traction on Thursday. The Bears missed 20 of their 26 3-point attempts, and appeared to labor with each miss creating additional pressure on the visitors.

“Guys want to make plays and they want to get back into the win column so bad that we’re not allowing ourselves to slow down and make the right play,” coach Wyking Jones said of his anxious Bears.

Cal lost for the 15th consecutive time, a streak that includes a second, 20-point loss to Arizona at home on January 12. The Bears are assured the bottom seed in the upcoming Pac-12 conference tournament in Las Vegas, and an opening round matchup with the 5-seed, a position currently held by 14-win Utah.

The Bears were led by Justice Sueing’s 16 points and Paris Austin’s 12 points, the only two Cal players to score in double figures.

Cal’s Arizona swing concludes on Sunday in Tempe with a meeting with the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Not Much Difference: Cal competitive early then wilts at Oregon in 73-62 loss

By Morris Phillips

Cal’s high point was also the beginning of the end for the Bears on Wednesday at Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena.

A 7-0 run capped by Justice Sueing’s three-point play gave the Bears a 15-13 lead with 9:32 remaining in the first half.  It would be the final lead for the Bears on the evening, one they would have two opportunities to extend. But like Cal’s two previous, early leads, the Duck responded with a 3-pointer to regain an advantage.

This time–after Payton Pritchard’s 3-pointer– the Ducks took off.

A 17-2 Oregon run put Cal in a double-digit hole at the half. And Oregon methodically maintained their advantage after the break in a 73-62 win.

The Ducks shot 65 percent from the floor after the break, on their way to becoming the 14th Cal opponent to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor. And while lack of defense was Cal’s biggest issue, it wasn’t their only one.

The Bears got outrebounded 33-23, and while they got to the foul line, and converted (16 of 19), that wasn’t nearly enough to overcome horrid 39 percent shooting from the floor.

The result? Another loss, just not one stuffed with embarrassment. The Bears never let the Ducks run away, but they never caught up either, trailing for the game’s final 30 minutes. Now with an 0-10 record in conference play, the Bears must remain vigilant or confront being the first Pac-12 team to go winless in league play since Oregon State in 2008, a year before Utah and Colorado joined the conference.

Without looking ahead, the Bears don’t want to look back either: they’ve dropped 13 consecutive, conference road games and 18 overall dating back to last season.

Pritchard paced Oregon with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and three other starters scored in double figures led by Louis King with 12.

“I liked our pace in this game,” Pritchard said. “Defensively, we got some steals to easy looks. We were running it up. Guys were attacking in the seams and it allowed everyone else to get open.”

Justice Sueing led Cal with 17 points, and Paris Austin and Connor Vanover added 12 each.

The Bears continue their Northwest swing on Saturday at Oregon State with the tipoff at 2:30 pm.

What Now?: Late game, reversed call prevents Cal from ending losing skid

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, Calif. — The made shots, assists, team effort and the coaching staff’s approval all leaned heavily toward the Cal Bears on Sunday afternoon.

The critical, late game calls made by the officials did not.

The Bears appeared to gain an 83-83 tie on Matt Bradley’s physical drive for a bucket and a foul, but a video replay compelled the referees to reverse the call, wipe out the basket, and put Stanford in the driver’s seat with 13 seconds remaining.

Both coaches weighed in on the critical call, and both admitted the situation left them powerless and in hope that the whistle simply went their way.

“First of all, I didn’t know that you would overturn a call,” coach Wyking Jones said. “Mike Reed is a great official and he went to the monitor and saw something different, so I have to respect the call.”

“It was some kind of a dire situation so I felt very excited when they went to the monitor that there was still hope,” Stanford coach Jerod Haase admitted.

Instead of Cal tying the game and getting an opportunity at the foul stripe to establish a one-point lead, Stanford’s KZ Okpala made one of two free throw attempts to increase Stanford’s lead to three. Seconds later, Paris Austin’s 3-point attempt fell woefully short and the Cardinal escaped.

The Bears fell to 0-9 in Pac-12 conference play, and lost for a school-record tying tenth, consecutive time. The Bears last lost 10 straight in 1962.

Stanford won for the third time in their last four outings, and stayed above .500 at 11-10.

Okpala, Stanford’s emerging sophomore who is gaining interest from the NBA, led the Cardinal with 19 of his career-best 30 points after halftime.

Justice Sueing paced Cal with 23 points. Paris Austin and 7’2″ Connor Vanover contributed 15 points each.

Jones vowed that his Bears would respond with a better effort following a full week of preparation, and they did give Stanford fits with pressure defenses that forced the majority of the Cardinal’s 18 turnovers. The Bears led by one at the half, and extended their lead to 56-49 with 12:44 remaining.

But Stanford–which countered their issues holding on to the basketball with 57 percent shooting from the floor–responded with a run at that point and forced the Bears to beat them with late game execution.

The result was a devastating loss decided in the final seconds, but the effort was laudable, far more than in the nine losses that preceded Sunday.

“They emptied the tank today,” Jones said. “I felt they gave us everything they had. They played together. They looked like a cohesive group. I’m very proud of the effort and the fight that they showed today, but we came up short.”

Cal heads to Oregon for a Wednesday night game at 6:30 pm PT.

Making Themselves At Home: Utah the latest visitor to take advantage at Haas Pavilion, win 82-64

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Utah needed to do two things: get their offense cranked up to take advantage of one of the nation’s worst defenses, and play the typically, stingy ball-hawking defense that Larry Krystkowiak-coached teams are known for.

To Krystkowiak’s dismay, the Utah offense kicked in immediately while his defense took its sweet time to show up.

But once both phases were in sync, the host Cal Bears couldn’t keep pace. Instead of igniting their fans, the Bears went quietly, trailing in all but the game’s first four minutes in a 82-64 loss.

“We did a good job defensively in the second half,” Krystkowiak said. “The first half was kind of a shootout and we were expending a lot more energy on offense, but we slowed the game down and got that figured out in the second half.”

The Utes won their fourth straight and remained in a second place tie with USC, two games behind league-leading Washington. The Bears remain winless in conference play, and haven’t captured a Pac-12 contest since February, a streak that’s approaching a year in length.

For the dwindling number of fans supporting the Bears at Haas Pavilion the streaks are even more dire. The 18-point loss marked the 13th time in 52 games under coach Jones that Cal has lost by double-digits at home. And at 5-15, 0-8, with 11 games remaining, the Bears are drawing closer to a second, consecutive 20-loss season, which has never happened previously in the history of the program.

“We all have pride. This doesn’t feel good. We’ll hit the reset button, come back together and figure it out,” Jones said.

Putting It All Together Is The Hard Part: Cal skid hits eight in loss to Colorado

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–The Cal Bears hadn’t been in a close game late in three weeks. But there they were, after overcoming an 18-point deficit, leading Colorado 54-53 with 7:04 remaining on Thursday night.

It would soon become a fleeting moment. The Bears would lead just once and see their losing streak reach eight games. The Buffaloes recovered, shutting down Cal in the final minutes, and winning 68-59.

But Coach Wyking Jones could at least point to his club’s effort as a positive in recapping the evening.

“I was obviously very happy with the fight and the toughness our guys showed in that stretch that I’ve been waiting to see for a long time,” Jones said. “I saw some guys who had to give everything they had get tired.”

The Buffs won at Berkeley for the first time as a member of the Pac-12 after five losses. They needed fewer than two minutes to extend their 11-point halftime lead to 18. But little went right after that, until Colorado grew stingy after Paris Austin pulled Cal within 60-58 with 4:09 remaining. The Bears were limited to one made free throw after that, missing their final seven shots.

“It’s much like November — it’s a lot better to learn from a win than learn from a loss, and this would have been a crushing loss,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “I’m really proud of the way the guys reacted to the adversity.”

Guard McKinley Wright finished with eight points, four rebounds, and served as the ringleader for a CU attack that feasted on open looks. Three Colorado players scored in double figures, led by Lucas Siewert with 18, but Wright made the big plays late, despite missing the previous game against Utah due to a shoulder injury.

“He’s like Tom Brady. When he’s on the floor, everything’s much easier,” said Tyler Bey (17 points, 14 rebounds) of Wright.

The Bears haven’t won a conference game since February, and that streak will extend to more than a year if they can’t stop Utah on Saturday at Haas Pavilion.

“We don’t have that margin of error where we can lay back. Those little spurts when we’re not focused, they really come back to hurt us at the end of the game,” said Justice Sueing, who along with Austin paced Cal with 13 points.

Only Place To Look Is Up: Cal lands in the Pac-12 basement, lose to WSU, 82-59

By Morris Phillips

The Cal Bears can’t get any lower than this.

In a sleepy, sparsely populated Beasley Coliseum, the Bears were supposed to be purposely competitive with Washington State, the one other Pac-12 team that hadn’t done much thus far this season, similar to Cal.

But instead of purposely competitive, the Bears were surprisingly quiet. And the two Cougars that Cal could least afford to allow to have big games, did.

Robert Franks returned to the WSU lineup after missing four games with a hip issue, and seamlessly fit back in, scoring 24 points in limited minutes off the bench. Franks scored a career-best 34 points against Cal in last year’s meeting in Pullman, including a school-record 10 made threes.

Franks had consecutive baskets in WSU’s run to open the second half that stretched the Cougars’ lead from nine at the break, to double digits, then to as many as 29 in the game’s waining moments.

C.J. Elleby, son of Bill Elleby, the former Cal player from 1988 to 1992, gave the Cougs a big assist as well. The highly regarded freshman started and scored 11 points, including two made threes.

The whole stew added up to 54 percent shooting for Washington State as they became the tenth Cal opponent to shoot 51 percent or better from the floor this season.

Meanwhile, the Bears limped along with 39 percent shooting and committed 14 turnovers. Neither number was as telling as Cal’s season-low six assists, as 10 of the 13 Bears to see action failed to record one.

Washington State broke a six-game losing streak with the win, and won for the first time in conference play.

The Bears (5-12, 0-5) are still looking for that first conference win, and they’ve dropped 12 consecutive Pac-12 contests dating back to last year.

The Bears were led by Justice Sueing with 15 points. Matt Bradley chipped in with 14, but missed eight of his 13 shots. The Bears were surprisingly poor from the foul line, making just nine of 16.

The Bears travel to Seattle for Saturday’s meeting with the first-place Huskies. Washington is currently the only conference team projected to make the NCAA tournament and that’s only as a ten-seed. Game time set for 2:00 pm PST.

Home Not Hospitable: Cal’s struggles at Haas continue in 87-65 loss to Arizona

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, Calif. — Hard to believe, but the Arizona Wildcats went more than eight minutes without scoring a field goal on Saturday night at Haas Pavilion.

Didn’t matter much, the Cats led 14-10 when the drought started, and they still led 22-17 when it ended.

The statistical oddity said a lot more about the lackluster hosts than it said about Arizona.

Cal saw its shooting grow colder than the visitors in their 87-65 loss to Arizona that kept the Bears (5-11, 0-4) winless in the Pac-12. The 11th consecutive loss in conference play for the Bears left few positives. In fact, after Cal shot a miserable 34.5 percent for the game, coach Wyking Jones had little to say about his team’s offense.

That’s because Jones was so preoccupied with his team’s dismal defense that allowed 87 points despite Arizona’s drought, the Bears’ offense got a pass.

“We have to improve our sense of urgency on the defensive end,” said Jones. “It’s a major, major problem for us right now. We’re an athletic team. We’re a quick team. We’re undersized, so we shouldn’t be getting taken off the bounce the way we’re getting taken off the bounce or opening up the floor for guys to kick out to wide-open shooters.”

The 12th double-digit home loss in Wyking Jones’ 48 games as head coach was a definite low point right down to the smaller Arizona contingent of fans making more noise than Cal’s supporters. But fortunately for Cal, the schedule eases with a game at similarly challenged Washington State up next, a chance to break the losing skid.

But the Bears need significant improvement if they envision hanging with the Cougars in Pullman.

Justice Sueing paced Cal with 27 points, but he was the only Bear to score in double figures. Cal’s other four starters combined to miss 29 of their 38 shots. Connor Vanover started at center and missed all six of his shot attempts inside the arc. Vanover’s only makes? A pair of 3-pointers, and an inadvertent tip-in at the buzzer before halftime–for Arizona as the 7’3″ center attempted to secure the defensive rebound off Brandon Williams’ miss.

That basket was credited to Arizona’s Chase Jeter, who led the Cats with 23 points, nine rebounds, and was part of a huge run that took Arizona from up five at the end of their first half drought to 12 at halftime, and 26 with 5:48 remaining.

At one juncture, Arizona scored at least one point on 21 of 23 possessions. How could Cal’s defense be so porous?

“Effort is the biggest thing. We keep going back to the fact that we’re young but we’re a lot more than what we’re showing, and we all know that,” Sueing said. “It’s disappointing to see us work so hard, especially with shooting and defense being the emphasis in practice.”

Arizona (13-4, 4-0) isn’t the only Pac-12 team that’s undefeated in conference play, and Cal not the only team looking for it’s first win, but the two are first and last in the standings. Arizona has won six straight overall, and holds a half-game lead over Washington and UCLA, both at 3-0.

The Bears are 0-4, a half-game behind 0-3 Washington State. The two teams see each other on Thursday at 7 pm in Pullman, WA.

Fighting with Fight On: Bears battle back late only to fall to depleted USC, 82-73

By Morris Phillips

Cal stepped onto the hardwood Thursday to face a Pac-12 opponent for the first time this season and a likely reoccurring theme emerged: Yeah (fill-in the conference opponents name, in this case USC) isn’t where they thought they’d be, but there still further along than the Cal Bears.

Nick Rakocevic scored a career-high 27 points and Bennie Boatwright contributed 19 in the Trojans 82-73 home win in which they maintained a lead the entirety of the game’s final 30 minutes at the Galen Center.

The Bears finished with a rush, getting within 71-67 with 2:45 remaining after Justice Sueing was fouled attempting a 3-pointer and made all three free throws. But USC’s response was swift, an 11-4 run increased their lead to double digits with 12 seconds to go.

Coming off a disappointing home loss to Seattle–and losing by the exact same score as they did to the Redhawks–didn’t dim Coach Wyking Jones’ appreciation for his team’s readiness and fight.

“The message was to continue to fight. That’s what we’ve been focusing on all week. They’ve got great size. We don’t. For us to even up with them in boards was something we wanted, and we challenged our guys with that all week. I thought the fight was there. We had some open looks that we normally knock down. Had we shot the ball a little bit better, it would’ve been a different game,” Jones said.

The Bears suffered a pair of humbling, 18-point losses to the Trojans last season, both driven by USC’s superior depth and quickness. So the Trojans’ misfortune in having just seven scholarship players available should have tilted the proceedings in favor of Cal. But that math didn’t account for the 6’11” Rakocevic and the 6’10” Boatwright.

Rakocevic previously set a career-best against Cal at Haas Pavilion a year ago with 19 points. But this this time he simply was at his best, shooting 12 of 14 from the floor including 10 for 10 in the second half. And neither Boatwright or Rakocevic relied on their superior height to bludgeon the Bears in the paint. Rakocevic especially took advantage of the Bears from mid-range, by methodically knocking down shots from his preferred spots on the floor.

“We made adjustments at halftime and Nick was able to get behind the defense,” said USC coach Andy Enfield of Rakocevic. “He did a great job of finding the open area. He played efficiently and extremely well in the second half.”

The only blemish on the junior from Chicago’s evening was a dustup in which got tangled up with a Cal player under the hoop. Rakocevic picked up a foul, but fortunately avoided a technical.

“We were playing with great emotion until Nick picked up the flagrant foul. We’re tired of that. He has to act better. He’s too good a player,” Enfield said.

The Bears welcomed center Connor Vanover back after his lingering issues with concussion symptoms, and he played well with 10 points including a pair of made threes in 15 minutes of action. Sueing contributed his first-ever double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds), and Matt Bradley played effectively in 34 minutes off the bench.

But ultimately, the Bears didn’t have enough, in this case, not so much due to their lack of size, but more so the Trojans’ decided edge in experience. For Cal, the issues will crop nightly, even in a year in which the Pac-12 is experiencing an unprecedented downswing that has exposed issues in nearly all of the other 11 programs, most notably UCLA, and now Oregon, who must now soldier on without the services of the league’s most talented player, 7’2″ Bol Bol who has been shelved for the remainder of the season due to foot issues.

Cal’s grim reality? They travel to UCLA on Saturday looking to avoid a 10th consecutive conference road loss, and ninth straight overall in Pac-12 play. Tipoff is set at 1:00 pm PT.

Not Just the Shots: Cal beaten decisively at Fresno State, 95-73, as all goes south except their shooting

By Morris Phillips

On Wednesday, the Cal Bears had 28 made baskets on 49 percent shooting, and their opponent, host Fresno State had 29 made baskets on 51 percent shooting.

Sounds like a close game with both teams dialed in on the offensive end, right?

Hardly, the Bears did little right with exception of shooting the basketball, and were beaten start to finish by the Bulldogs, 95-73. As the game approached halftime, the Bears grew stagnant offensively, and Fresno State took off, leading by as many as 25 points in the second half.

“At the end of the first half is when we stopped sharing the ball and that’s where they made their run,” said Cal coach Wyking Jones. “It is concerning because that’s how we played at the beginning of the season. I would think that we would have learned at this point that we have to move the ball to be good.”

The Bears did little right outside of three, quality performances offensively from Justice Sueing, Paris Austin and Andre Kelly. Fresno State drove to the basket at will against Cal, leading to their stellar shooting numbers as well as a whopping 38 free throw attempts, of which they converted 29. The Bulldogs also enjoyed a healthy advantage on the glass (36-27) while getting at least two made 3-pointers from three, different guys in their starting lineup.

Fresno State stayed hot, winning for the sixth, consecutive time despite two weeks of inactivity for study and final exams.

“We had six guys in double-figures and I think we had a low turnover rate until the end, we got a little bit sloppy at the end,” first-year head coach Justin Hutson said. “Cal is a 40% 3-point team and to go 3-for-15 and 20% was a big difference for us tonight.”

The Bears’ offense never gained traction, even as Cal battled evenly with Fresno State approaching halftime. Justice Sueing’s layup with 3:31 remaining brought Cal within 34-31, but the Bulldogs finished the half on a 10-1 run to seize control.

Grant Anticevich replaced the concussed Connor Vanover in the Bears’ starting lineup, but suffered his second straight below par game, missing four of his five shots.

New Williams scored 19 points to led Fresno State, he was one of six Bulldogs to score in double digits, including all five starters.

Fresno’s 95 points was the team’s high for the season, although they had scored at least 90 three times previously.

The Bears return home Friday to face San Jose State at 7 pm at Haas Pavilion.