Cal Bears report: Fox out as head coach; It was matter of time after team went 3-29

Cal Bears head coach Mark Fox has some comments to make after a call during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore., Sat Mar 4, 2023 (AP News file photo)

By Morris Phillips and Michael Duca

Cal Bears head coach Mark Fox was the butt end of memes during Cal home games that showed the swirling Fire Fox logo during this season. The inevitable happened on Thursday afternoon when Cal Athletic Director Jim Knowlton announced that indeed Fox was fired from the flagging basketball team who went 3-29.

“This was a difficult decision and one that I do not take lightly,” Knowlton said. “After deliberately and holistically evaluating all aspects of our program, I felt a change was needed at this time.” Fox took over the reigns of head coach in 2019. Fox gave the Golden Bears some hope when he took the club to a 14-18 season, the Bears that season went 7-11 in non conference games.

It was the last three years that Fox just couldn’t recover Cal basketball with losing seasons that landed him and the Cal MBB program in last place in 2021 and 2023. Cal had a 10-50 overall record in those last three seasons. Previous to Fox coming to Cal head coach Wyking Jones coached the Bears for two seasons going 8-24 in 2017-18 and 8-23 in 2018-19.

Fox leaves Cal with a 38-87 overall record and going 17-61 in four regular seasons. When Fox first took over in 2019-20 he was able to win seven conference games. Fox was unable to win over five games in each of the following three seasons as Cal head coach. Also the Cal program had lost over 20 games in three consecutive seasons with Cal finishing in last place in two seasons under Fox.

Before coaching at Cal Fox coached at the Georgia Bulldogs for nine seasons and led Georgia to two NCAA Tournament appearances. Fox at Georgia finished above .500 in his last five years. As head coach in Reno for the Nevada Wolfpack Fox won three NCAA Tournaments and won at least 21 games in his five seasons in Nevada.

Plodding Bears can’t shoot it or hold on to it in 65-56 loss to Washington

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Can’t shoot straight or pass accurately? You’re in trouble, especially in the Pac-12 Conference, where opposing defenses feed off that level of disfunction.

The Cal Bears started competitively for a change and kept within range for 35 minutes, but 31 percent shooting and 15 turnovers weren’t going to cut it against visiting Washington.

Cal fell to UW, 65-56, their 12th straight loss since they last won against Stanford on January 6.

One of the confounding aspects of Cal’s worst-ever season (along with the fact that they likely won’t win five games, which is hard to do when they, like all Power 5 schools, have a stranglehold on how they schedule, and who they play) is they continue to compile high turnover numbers despite playing at one of the slowest paces in 363-member Division I.

It makes sense that Cal plays slow. They’ve been decimated by injuries at the ball handling positions and again played without guard DeJuan Clayton on Thursday.

It doesn’t make sense that they regularly register double-figure turnovers at this stage of the season. But Pac-12 opponents sense Cal’s lack of organization and hunt the basketball as much as they successfully keep the Bears from scoring.

Again, on Thursday, the formula worked.

“We kept the score, the pace of the game where we wanted it,” coach Mark Fox said. “(It’s) just unfortunate that we didn’t make more shots.”

The Bears also missed seven free throws and fell behind by 18 points at one juncture. That preceded a 15-3 run that brought them within 52-46. But Cal would get no closer. The Huskies responded with a pair of free throws and a Keion Brooks Jr. dunk to push their lead back to ten.

“They’re at home. They’re fighting, but our guys, at the end of the day, found a way to win,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “We made some foul shots down the stretch and got the stops we needed.”

Brooks led UW with a game-best 24 points and 11 rebounds.

“They came out and fought hard,” Brooks said of Cal. “They were physical. We knew they were going to do that. Those are the type of games that you get up for because you know it’s going to be a little back and forth. But credit to them, we got up big and they didn’t go away.”

The Bears’ final home came comes on Saturday at 2:00pm against Washington State at Haas Pavilion.

Run Ragged: Sun Devils race past Cal in 71-44 romp in Tempe

By Morris Phillips

How do you characterize the two-game series between Cal and Arizona State this season?

Well, that’s easy. Both teams put forth their best effort, that is if they didn’t fall on their collective faces.

On January 2, the Bears growled menacingly from the start, leading by 18 at the half and winning by 24 as they shot 51 percent from the floor and passed the ball expertly leading to 17 assists.

On Thursday in the rematch in the desert, ASU was off and running, building a brief, double-digit lead in the first half, then burying Cal with a running and shooting barrage after halftime, resulting in an, easy 27-point win.

The common thread in both games was that while each team looked pretty darn good in their wins, they’ll likely beat themselves up remembering how out of character they were in getting blown out.

“As well as we played last Saturday, we played the opposite defensively today,” coach Mark Fox said. “We really collapsed on the defensive end in the second half.”

The Bears survived a rough first half in part by getting a pair of big baskets from Grant Anticevich before halftime to climb within six points of the Sun Devils. But all that effort to get back in the game disappeared after halftime. The Bears allowed ASU to make 18 of their 28 shot attempts, and couldn’t stop run outs or 3-point attempts.

“When you don’t score and they can fast break on every possession, you’re going to have a hard time getting your defense set,” Fox said.

Previously against Stanford in their 53-39 win, and on February 12 at Oregon in Cal’s last road game, a 78-64 win, the Bears played at a methodical pace, made shots when the game was in doubt, and defended as if they were constructing a fortress in front of the hoop.

Against ASU those same Cal Bears put up little resistance and showed hardly any resolve. With all the attention around the program this week and speculation regarding Fox and his now likely return for a fourth year at the helm, the effort and result looked completely out of place.

Furthermore, the Bears (12-18, 5-14) may not get another opportunity to better present themselves. Saturday’s regular season finale at No. 2 Arizona could be a particularly turbulent experience, and a conference tournament opener currently sees them matched up with either Washington or Washington State. Cal dropped both meetings with those two schools.

D.J. Horne was one of five Sun Devils (13-16, 9-10) to score at least 10 points and led the hosts with 13 points. Marreon Jackson and Jay Heath combined to miss 20 shots in the first meeting between the clubs, this time they contributed 11 and 12 points respectively. Arizona State has won 6 of their last 7 after losing 9 of 11.

“We knew what their game plan was going to be, they ranked last in pace of play,” ASU’s Kimani Lawrence said. “We got bigs and guys on the wings at different positions that can run, putting pressure on defense and getting on the fastbreak benefits our offense.”

Jalen Celestine led Cal with 11 points, and the sophomore was the only Bear to score more than 10 points.