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.

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.

Withered In The Wasatch: Utah limits Cal in decisive 2nd half, wins 66-58

By Morris Phillips

Things just got progressively more difficult for the Cal Bears in Salt Lake City on Sunday afternoon.

From realizing an early eight-point lead, then having to tussle to maintain some portion of that lead at the halftime break, the Cal Bears found resistance from host Utah almost immediately.

That pressure was ratcheted with Utah’s 10-0 run to take the lead four minutes into the second half, and it didn’t relent. Utah’s focus on stopping Cal’s top three offensive threats carried all the way through to the final horn, and a 66-58 Utes’ victory.

“We never found a rhythm in the second half,” coach Mark Fox said. “Our three-point shooting in the first half was good to us, and in the second half not so much. We have to have a more mature approach. We still had a possession late where we missed a couple of good threes that would have got it to a one-possession game.”

The Utes targeted Andre Kelly, Jordan Shepherd and Grant Anticevich for statistical close shaves, and they did a precise job, limiting the trio to 12 makes and no threes in a combined 33 shot attempts. Cal best offensive threats never got started–their teammates did, most notably Makale Foreman–and they certainly didn’t finish off anything.

Utah doubled Kelly in the post, which kept him to just six shot attempts. For Anticevich and Shepherd, the Utes were careful to stay attached, especially when either were looking to unleash a three.

“I don’t think we nearly demanded the ball well enough in the post,” Fox said of how his Bears reacted to Utah’s defensive approach. “I don’t think the post trap led us to a bunch of turnovers, but I don’t think we nearly executed with the authority that we need to on the offensive end to create advantages.”

The game’s progression told a simple tale: With Cal shut down in the paint, they initially made tough shots, especially Foreman who had eight of his 13 in Cal’s 26-18 start. But Foreman’s scoring ceased at halftime, and his teammates couldn’t follow his lead. The Bears missed all eight 3-point attempts and shot 29.6 percent after the break.

Both Gach led Utah with 19 points, six rebounds and Branden Carlson–a gametime decision with an ankle issue–started slow, but came up with 10 of his 12 after break, presumably when his injured ankle loosened up. Utah was 2 of 11 from three before the break, but much better with 6 of 14 afterwards.

“It wasn’t a fire and brimstone speech or anything like that at halftime,” Utah coach Craig Smith said. “But it was a matter-of-fact speech and we made a few adjustments with our screen and roll defense, which really helped us.”

The Utes avoided consecutive, home losses to start Pac-12 play, while Cal couldn’t surprise the entire West Coast with a 2-0 conference beginning after they were picked to finish 12th. Still, the early taste of league action was good for the Bears (4-5, 1-1) and their quiet confidence, and they’ll try to expand on it when they host Idaho State on Wednesday.

Bears In the Win Column: Cal holds off San Diego, 75-70

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Five made 3-pointers in a span of less than three minutes–an anomaly for the 2021-22 Cal Bears–fueled the host club to their first win of the season, 75-70 over San Diego.

“(Jordan) Shepherd made a great play, I was open and shot it with confidence,” Joel Brown said of Cal’s first half run that fueled Cal’s evening. “From there, it opened up everything.” 

Grant Anticevich led Cal with 17 points, shooting 5 for 8 from the floor, and making all three 3-point attempts. The fifth-year senior has lead the Bears in scoring in two straight games.

The other three Cal Bears that have been in heavy usage thus far this season: guards Brown, Shepherd and forward Andre Kelly produced complimentary, balanced numbers as well. Leading scorer Shepherd had 14 points, three assists, Kelly had 13 points, eight rebounds, and Brown had 12 points and seven assists.

This time out the Bears weren’t tentative offensively or bereft of made buckets, they shot 50 percent from the floor for the first time. And they backed that with a 10 for 15 clip from three and 69 percent success at the free throw line. After the game was tied at 32 at halftime, the Bears pulled ahead in the first seven minutes after the break, using an 8-0 run that saw them down 43-38, then up 46-43. They then led for the final 13 minutes, 24 seconds of the game.

The Bears hadn’t been this efficient shooting threes since the 1996-97 season, and again, they weren’t expected to be dialed in like Steph with this group, this season.

“We made enough shots to win,” Coach Mark Fox said.

“The thing that probably drives me crazy more than anything is especially when it’s guys we deem as snipers,” said USD coach Sam Scholl, who obviously wasn’t fooled by Cal’s 28.1 percent shooting from three coming in. “Their snipers got off a few too many 3s.”

San Diego was paced by senior Joey Calcaterra with 18 points, and four made threes. Jase Townsend had 16 points, four assists and Terrell Brown 11 points, 11 rebounds, five blocked shots in a spirited performance for San Diego.

Jalen Celestine and Makale Foreman comprised the biggest co-conspirators for Cal off the bench, as both played extensive minutes for a second game after both were absent in the opener. Foreman was 3 of 4 for 8 points in 20 minutes, while Celestine went scoreless in 12 minutes. Lars Thiemann picked up the slack with Kelly in foul trouble, playing 12 minutes and scoring four points.

“We had a couple too many breakdowns on their good players and they made us pay,” Scholl said of his Toreros, who could have started the season 3-0 for the first time since 2013.

Cal hosts Southern Utah on Thursday evening at 7:00 pm with television coverage on the Pac-12 Network. Southern Utah has already gained a foothold in the Bay Area, losing to St. Mary’s in Moraga on Monday, 70-51.

Cal outclassed by Colorado in an 89-60 road loss

By Morris Phillips

Early on, it appeared as if the Rocky Mountains and early tip times suited the Cal Bears just fine.

Andre Kelly set up shop near the basket and was enjoying a thriving business. Makale Foreman was Mr. Inside and Outside, and Jalen Celestine–in his most impactful minutes as a Bear to date–was making plays at both ends.

Three consecutive baskets by Foreman gave the Bears an 18-11 lead over host Colorado, who looked ill suited for the high noon start on a Thursday.

But that moment was as good as would get. Colorado coach Tad Boyle called a timeout, his Buffs responded with eight quick points to regain the lead, the Bears wobbled, and soon found themselves saddled with a 89-60 loss.

What transpired in that timeout? According to McKinley Wright IV, Colorado’s unquestioned leader and one of the best players in the Pac-12, Boyle implored his team to stop Foreman, who scored 10 of Cal’s first 18 points.

“We talked about it in the scouting report yesterday and talked about it today in pregame that when he is dribbling with his left hand he is a really good shooter,” Wright said of Foreman. “He made three in a row like that. Coach got on us about it and ever since then we didn’t look back.”

While the Buffs focused on the finer points of their scouting report, the Bears unraveled. Unable to buy a basket in a 23-2 Colorado run that closed the first half, then defensively as the Buffs scored 55 points in the second half, Cal was simply outclassed.

“We couldn’t get stops,” coach Mark Fox admitted. “Obviously, we’re disjointed offensively with the lineups we’re forced to play. That part is a little frustrating. But defensively, we just did not get the job done.”

Repeatedly, Colorado broke Cal utilizing a high screen that yielded clear paths to the basket, and plenty of time and space for spot up shooters.

Plenty of time.

Wright racked up 11 assists, breaking the school record for assists in a career in the process, and Colorado knocked down 12 3-pointers on 21 attempts. Their 59 percent shooting after halftime turned the game into a rout, with the Bears trailing by as many as 31 points.

The Bears again played without Matt Bradley, who joined his teammates on the trip, but missed his fifth, consecutive game. This time, Cal missed their leading scorer at both ends of the floor.

“He’s a physical presence defensively,” Fox said. “He’s a good rebounder. Obviously, he’s our leading scorer. Certainly we miss him.”

Four of Cal’s six conference losses have been by 11 points or more. Thursday’s 29-point margin was their worst outcome of the season.

Cal (6-8, 1-6) visits Utah on Saturday night. The Utes defeated Stanford 79-65 in a game that also got the Pac-12 matinee treatment.

Cal offense sharp despite absence of top two scorers, rout Northridge 87-56

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–A late announcement reveals the Cal Bears to be without their top two offensive threats.

In 2020, that’s par for the course. You must adjust.

With Matt Bradley dealing with a knee injury, and Grant Anticevich out after appendectomy surgery, the offensively-challenged Bears had few places to turn. Fortunately, two of those places were to graduate transfers Ryan Betley and Makale Foreman.

Foreman and Betley–arguably more impressive and consistent than Anticevich and Bradley thus far–answered the call. The duo combined for 42 points, making nine 3-pointers, in what was ironically Cal’s best offensive performance to date, an 87-56 rout of Cal State Northridge.

“I thought we did a lot of things that were really sound, and allowed us to build a lead, play from in front and get some young guys some experience,” coach Mark Fox said.

The Bears shot 60 percent from the field and registered their most convincing win since beating Oregon State in February 2017. Coming in, the Bears were shooting just 43 percent from the floor in averaging 65 points per game.

Joel Brown had his best game of the season with 10 points, shooting a perfect 5 for 5 from the field. Jarret Hyder, the Fresno State transfer, made his Cal debut with six points in 18 minutes off the bench. Lars Thiemann and Andre Kelly were Cal’s replacement starters and both registered exemplary games.

Not surprisingly, the Matadors, who agreed to play Cal earlier this week, weren’t pleased with their play. Besides their far too accomodating defense, they shot 35 percent and committed 17 turnovers.

“We’re a lot better and I believe we can be better,” coach Mark Gottfried said. “We turned the ball over a lot, we took bad shots, our shot selection was poor, I thought defensively we had a hard time containing the dribble and they blew right by us a number of times.”

TJ Starks, the Matadors leading scorer, was held to 13 points, and Atin Wright added 10.

Cal (4-4, 0-2) concludes its fluidly constructed non-conference schedule on Tuesday with a visit from Seattle U. Redhawks at 2pm.

Foreman’s shot at the buzzer gives Cal their only lead in 72-70 win over USF

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–“Sometimes, you gotta do more,” said Cal coach Mark Fox.

Fox certainly got more grit and determination from his Bears in an improbable 72-70 win over USF at Haas Pavilion on Sunday. Makale Foreman’s 3-point basket just a fraction of a second before the final horn gave the Bears the win and their only lead of the day.

After a string of disappointing losses the Bears played smarter, harder and more efficiently against the Dons. But it didn’t amount to much until the game’s final play. In the final eight seconds Cal rushed the ball up the full length of the floor with Matt Bradley passing to Grant Anticevich then to Foreman at the 3-point arc just ahead of the final buzzer.

The Bears showed tremendous patience in getting the ball to their graduate transfer Foreman, the team’s only high percentage option from distance. By backing up four feet beyond the arc Foreman created the needed distance to avoid the lunging defender Jamaree Bouyea.

Ironically, Foreman had missed all five of his previous 3-point attempts and six shots in all.

A big factor in the win was Fox getting his team to reduce its shot attempts from distance after they fell to 242nd nationally (out of 315) in 3-point efficiency. In the meantime, Fox continued to encourage Foreman, the eighth most prolific 3-point shooter last season at Stony Brook, to look for his shot.

“He’s a great shooter,” Fox said of Foreman. “The decreased practice time has hurt him.”

The rest of Foreman’s took just nine threes (making five) and instead focused on getting the ball to the basket and drawing fouls. That strategy paid off as Andre Kelly scored a season-high 22 points and the Bears got to the line 23 times (making 16).

Anticevich and Bradley certainly did more, making tough shots with defenders draped on them from inside and out. The senior forward finished with a team-best 18 points and Bradley added 17.

The Dons scored the game’s first five points and led for 39 minutes only to be caught. Bouyea led all scorers with 24 and Kahlil Shabazz added 21. Bouyea went spectacular with his buzzer beater from 65 feet that gave USF a 37-28 halftime lead.

“I thought we played well enough to win, but not well enough to guarantee victory,” USF coach Todd Golden said. 

The Dons were attempting to beat Cal for an unprecedented third consecutive season, with the previous two wins both by double digits.

“Sometimes you gotta do more” was Fox’s explanation to his players for dressing in a traditional suit and tie, in a season where the NCAA has allowed coaches to wear polo shirts and sweat suits. Fox revealed to his team his choice of wardrobe on Saturday with the background story meant to motivate his group.

Apparently the ploy hit home.

The Bears will reveal their next two games later this week as the season on the fly continues. Fox did say there was an issue with one of their East Coast opponents meaning they may have two new opponents on their East swing in the days before Christmas or just one along with Boston College, which was previously announced.


UCLA leaves Cal at the side of the road in 76-56 conference win

By Morris Phillips

This Cal-UCLA pairing isn’t looking much like a rivalry right now.

The Bears looked like they were stuck in Southern California freeway traffic in falling to UCLA 76-56 on Sunday. The loss was Cal’s seventh in a row against the Bruins, and they haven’t won in Pauley Pavilion since 2010–well before one of college basketball’s best known venues underwent a major renovation.

Coach Mark Fox’s club didn’t actually get stuck in traffic. But they did deal with COVID-19 snafus that kept Makale Foreman and a second player in Berkeley on Saturday while the rest of the team traveled to Los Angeles. Those two players joined the team for the game but missed Saturday’s practice and the pre-game walk through. Fox wasn’t succinct, but apparently both players may have been saddled with false positive tests that took 24 hours to correct.

That upheaval along with playing one of the Pac-12’s championship favorites on a date historically early in the schedule left Cal disorganized, especially in the game’s first half.

“We were a step behind every play,” Fox said. “They shot nearly 70% in the first half. You have to give them credit for some for that, but obviously our defense was nowhere near where we wanted to be. Offensively, I didn’t think we played with any authority.”

At one point, the Bruins scored 15 straight to extend their lead to 31-11 with 6:57 remaining. The Bears would trail 40-22 at the half without recording a steal, a blocked shot or an offensive rebound.

“Yeah, we defended without fouling,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “Also they only had three offensive rebounds on 27 misses, so we worked hard on our boxing out. We know they’re a big, strong, physical team. The most irrelevant stat on a statsheet is the halftime score. I laugh when I hear ‘ya, ya, we were winning at half.’ That means you lost if somebody says that. We talk about strategy at halftime. What had hurt us, adjustments, we were well-aware that Mark Fox’s teams are not going to quit.”

The Bears did string together five consecutive possessions with points, getting them to within 66-54 with 4:30 remaining. But UCLA responded, scoring 10 straight to re-establish a 20-point lead.

Foreman led Cal with 14 points. Ryan Betley and Matt Bradley each contributed 12 points.

Both programs have remarkable similarities in the last two seasons, but UCLA and Cal have embarked on dissimilar trajectories. Both Fox and Cronin are veteran coaches in their second seasons at their respective schools, and in both programs, tough times and decisions have already hashed out. But the Bruins have better weathered the storms, starting with their 50-40 victory over Cal in January that sparked a 10-3 finish to last season that vaulted the Bruins to the top of the Pac-12 standings.

The Bruins have the better recruits but things didn’t gel until Cronin repeatedly demanded a defensive approach and got his team to buy in.

And the Bears? For Fox and his crew, their have been breakthroughs–seven conference wins last season and a Pac-12 tournament upset of Stanford–but the losses have been glaring, including Sunday’s.

Ironically, both teams returned eight rotation players from January’s game into Sunday. The Bruins have a clear, defensive identity augmented by offensive standouts Tyger Campbell (11 points, 12 assists on Sunday) and NBA prospect Chris Smith (21 points, two steals), a long armed shooter and defender who has grown at both ends of the floor.

Of Cal’s eight returners, none seems poised for stardom, including Bradley, who watched the final minutes from the bench as Cal briefly rallied. More specifically, none of the eight has added a secondary skill that will help Fox fill in the gaps. The Bears absence of an offensive facilitator and a secondary scorer needs to be addressed. Which players can answer the call?

The Bears continue their Los Angeles swing at Pepperdine on Wednesday. The Waves took the Bruins to three overtimes last week in San Diego before falling 107-98.