By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, CA–Cal’s last line of defense featuring former walk-on Cole Welle and seldom-used reserve Roman Davis received a near immediate assessment of their abilities courtesy of Washington’s Naz Carter on Saturday in the heat of a close game between the visiting Huskies and the Bears.
Hint: Carter did not issue a ringing endorsement.
Carter’s vicious dunk over Welle with 14:13 remaining marked the conclusion of the competitive contest between Cal and NCAA hopeful Washington, and the commencement of a rout, as the Huskies pulled away emphatically for a 68-51 victory. Again, Cal’s uneven roster absent of frontcourt reserves, a true point guard, and ballhandlers was as responsible for the result as was the Huskies’ high-flying dunk artists.
“In the second half, I thought foul trouble completely took away our flow,” Cal coach Wyking Jones explained. “I had some lineups out there today that I thought I would never have to play but did because of foul trouble. Ultimately, it was foul trouble along with 50-50 balls and loose balls. We had just as much opportunity to get them as they did, but they beat us to a lot of 50-50 balls. At the end of the day, we lost to a very good basketball team.”
Jones was presented near impossible choices when both his shot blocking post players, Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh picked up their fourth fouls early in the second half. With the possibility of losing either to fouls so early in a close game unpalatable, Jones elected to sit both. But that simply unleashed the Huskies, a team of drivers and slashers always on the hunt for point blank scoring opportunities. Carter’s wind up dunk came first, increasing UW’s lead to four, 47-43.
Noah Dickerson’s dunk came a minute later while Cal was in a drought at their end that would see them score just six points in the 13 minutes following Lee’s foul trouble departure with 16:19 remaining. When Don Coleman broke that string with a pair of made free throws with 3:11 remaining, the Bears trailed by 13.
How could Cal go from competing to not scoring so dramatically?
“Once Marcus and King got into foul trouble then I felt like their defensive focus was on Darius (McNeill), Don and Justice (Sueing),” Jones said. “The two guys who could hurt us inside are out of the game so they could focus on making sure the perimeter was tight, take away the driving lines and get over ball screens. Half of our attack was gone at that point, so they were able to focus in on the other guys.”
The Bears fell to 8-21, 2-14 with the loss, tying the record for most Cal losses in a season with 21, which had happened only once (1979) in the 111-year history of the program. The Bears haven’t finished last in the conference since 1980, but that appears to be a certainty barring a pair of major upsets in Arizona next weekend.