Pac-12 champ Arizona gets all they can handle from the Bears in the regular season finale

Photo courtesy of Al Sermeno/KLC Fotos

By Morris Phillips

The California Golden Bears found themselves at college basketball’s epicenter for the regular season finale, and they played their role as unwanted guests to the hilt for 35 minutes.

Doubling down on arguably their best half of basketball all season, the Bears kept the pressure on Arizona in the second half in front of a sold out crowd at the McKale Center. But with the game tied 53-53 with 5:49 remaining and Cal controlling the tempo and the home crowd growing increasingly nervous, the Bears went cold.

Arizona finished the game with a 13-1 run to capture the Pac-12 regular season championship outright, winning 66-54.

So what happened to the Bears, seemingly having a positive experience in an otherwise awful season, in those final moments?

“We turned it over and it didn’t feel like we got a really good look the last couple possessions, so that was kind of the difference in the game,” coach Wyking Jones said.

In the final minutes, Don Coleman missed a trio of 3-point attempts, Marcus Lee missed two free throws, and two other starters, Juwahn Harris-Dyson and Darius McNeill also missed shots. For Cal, only a made Don Coleman with 14 seconds remaining kept them from the embarrassment of going scoreless for the remainder of the game.

What could have been an encouraging regular season ending morphed into another in a long line of scoring droughts, which have dashed the team’s hopes in several other ballgames, leaving Jones only to talk of his team’s attitude in tough circumstances.

“They followed the game plan, played with toughness and that’s all we ask of them,” Jones said.

The Bears finished the regular season 2-16 in Pac-12 play and will open the conference tournament against fifth-seeded Stanford on Wednesday at 2:30pm. The winner advances to a quarterfinal matchup on Thursday against fourth-seeded UCLA.




Bears listless in fumbling away Pac-12 contest at Utah

Photo of Utah’s Tyler Rawsom courtesy of University of Utah Athletics

By Morris Phillips

If Saturday night’s California-Utah ballgame were contested on a gridiron, not on the hardwood, Cal would have been saddled with poor field position throughout and rarely crossed midfield.

As it was, the Bears’ offensive possessions often ended quickly with a thud while Utah’s explored the rich tapestry of sharing the basketball, more often than not concluding with a flourish at point-blank range.

Even the final margin of 34 points lent the proceedings the feel of a five touchdown-mismatch at Rice-Eccles Stadium three blocks to the west, not a blowout on the hoop court at the history-filled Hunstman Center.

Either way the Bears were sent packing, much in need of the week of preparation they’ll have prior to their rematch with Stanford next Sunday. According to head coach Wyking Jones, the Bears will need an infusion of heart as well before seeing the Cardinal.

“We had no fight tonight,” Jones admitted. “It sums it all up… we had no fight.”

The Bears started respectably, leading 8-4 after four minutes. But a 10-0 Utah run changed the tenor of the ballgame immediately. Later in the half Cal went scoreless for more than five minutes and found themselves trailing 40-21 at halftime.

Offensively, the Bears were a mess early. Six of Cal’s 11 first half turnovers came in the first nine minutes as Utah’s zone built in tenacity. In their typical style under Coach Larry Krystowiak, the Utes’ defense fueled their offense with 17 of their 40 points a direct result of Cal’s miscues.

“If we truly focus on getting stops, it’s the cliché in sports,” Krystowiak said. “Pitching wins World Series’; Defense wins Super Bowls. We’ve had a couple of weeks playing zone, the guys are buying into it. Coach Hill is doing a great job on the defensive side of the ball, and it makes the game fun. We took some charges, took care of the glass, and the offense took care of itself.

Cal speeds up the pace in exhibition win over University of Providence

Photo credit: @CalMBBall

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA — Size and athleticism were in abundant display for the Cal Bears in their exhibition debut victory over University of Providence.

Kingsley Okoroh, one of the few familiar faces in the Cal lineup, led the way with a triple-double (14 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks). Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee joined Okoroh in the team’s twin towers starting lineup and contributed 17 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.

Returning guard Don Coleman led Cal in scoring with 20 points.

New coach Wyking Jones, an assistant under former head coach Cuonzo Martin had the Bears playing a more uptempo style including a frequent, full court press. The Bears held the Argonauts to just 22 percent shooting in the first half in which they established a 44-24 halftime lead.

Providence’s shooting picked up slightly in the second half and the Bears cruised to a 81-52 victory. Deontae Woodbridge led Providence with 13 points but missed eight of his 12 shots from the field.

The Bears were picked to finish 11th in a Pac-12 pre-season poll, a nod to all the personnel and coaching changes on a team that has seven freshmen and a junior transfer, Jacob Orender.

The Bears official season opener comes on Friday night against UC Riverside at 9pm at Haas Pavilion.

Rabb in foul trouble, no Bird–no problem: Cal gets past La Tech in overtime, 68-59 photo: The Cal Bears Ivan Rabb throws down against Louisiana Tech’s defense at Haas Pavilion at UC Berkeley

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY–On Wednesday, with Ivan Rabb on the bench in foul trouble, Jabari Bird and Kameron Rooks in street clothes, and Louisiana Tech breathing down their collective necks in a close ballgame late, the Cal Bears passed with flying colors.

You don’t survive this kind of adversity without a bunch of characters, and Cal had them, from Kingsley Okoroh, in his lengthiest and best turn as a collegian, to steady Sam Singer, aggressive Grant Mullins and unshakeable Charlie Moore.  In those final seven minutes of regulation—without Rabb after he picked up his fourth foul until he returned for the final 2:36–the Bears would go from up five to down one twice, then tied again with 1:07 remaining.  But those four, unsung Bears and a couple of others, kept Cal afloat, taking all the shots even after Rabb returned for the final minutes and all of overtime.

Yes, Rabb was the leading scorer with a career-best 25 points, but his offensive contribution in the final 12 plus minutes of Cal’s 68-59 overtime victory was five makes out of six from the free throw line.  The pre-season All-American’s teammates did the rest.

“I told our guys I think this game made us a better team,” coach Cuonzo Martin said.  “Often times, you don’t see that level of athleticism, length and physicality on the floor–with speed.  Especially in the last maybe four minutes of the first half in transition they really got the best of us.  Our transition defense, we didn’t do a great job.”

Louisiana Tech was a handful in all aspects with one exception: they didn’t shoot well at all (27 percent), and went the final 4:18 of overtime without scoring.  Other than that, the Bulldogs competed, scratching their way back into the ballgame before halftime (as Martin described) and staying in it until overtime.  Tech had success defending the mercurial freshman, Moore and their 1-3-1 zone look utilized in the second half was effective.  And the Techsters didn’t budge with Rabb, taking the ball right at him, which eventually landed the 6’10” sophomore in foul trouble.

“They didn’t stop,” Rabb said.  “They didn’t let up at all and they continued to push us and we responded.  As long as we continue to respond when that pressure hits, that’s all that matters.”

The Bears won for the 24th consecutive time at home, a streak that’s currently the sixth best nationally, and a sure sign that this club has made itself comfortable at Haas Pavilion.  But good fortune has its place in the streak, and it cropped up Wednesday when Qiydar Davis left early for Louisiana Tech with what is being called a serious knee injury, and Jacobi Boykins and DaQuan Bracey nearly joined Davis on the bench when they had physical issues as well.

But Cal soldiered on as well, finding out that Rooks will miss more than a month after knee surgery, and Bird remains out indefinitely with his back spasms.  Bird would have been much needed against Tech with his length and shooting ability, but one after another, this group of Bears keep things together.

Okoroh was the biggest surprise, playing 40 minutes and fighting fatigue while coming up with nine points, 12 rebounds, five blocks and four assists.  The excitable Okoroh couldn’t stop talking afterwards, but his play talked plenty during the game, catching Martin’s attention.

“That’s 40 minutes and he didn’t foul out,” Martin said of Okoroh.  “And he does a great job keeping his hands high.  (In the off-season) he spent a lot of time playing defense without fouling, keeping his hands high, moving his feet and he does a great job.  And you don’t realize how big and physical he is until you’re up against him the whole night.”