photo by sportsradioservice.com 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.