Improved Bears take No. 11 Oregon to the wire in 75-72 loss

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Two weeks ago, a visit from a ranked opponent would have resulted in a lopsided loss for the Cal Bears. On Thursday night at Haas Pavilion, No. 11 Oregon got all they could handle from the improving Bears in a 75-72 win that had the Ducks sweating in the final minute. How’s that?

The Bears, for one of the only times all season, showed a varied, effective offense that had them even at halftime and leading 52-45 with 11 minutes remaining. At that point, Payton Pritchard, arguably the Pac-12’s best player, took over and led the Ducks to a big win that keeps them at the top of the conference standings with a 7-2 record.

“I was trying to be aggressive right away.” Pritchard said of mindset starting the second half of a tied game. “We made a run there and made something happen.”

Pritchard led the Ducks with 21 points, long-armed, defensive whiz Chris Duarte added 19 and Will Richardson contributed 15. For Cal, Matt Bradley got hot in the second half, scoring 20 of his game-best 25 points.

Early on the Bears got the best of what freshman Lars Theimann has offered thus far in Cal career. The 7’0″ center made all four of his shot attempts, scoring eight points, that gave the Bears’ attack some inside-out balance. From outside, Bradley, Grant Anticevich and Kareem South combined to make nine 3-pointers.

In a game ultimately decided by just three points, the Bears will remember their empty possessions that resulted in 14 turnovers, and their lack of bench contributions with 70 of their 72 points coming from the starters. But for a team again trying to avoid the basement in the Pac-12, the effort may have been their best so far, and a clear sign the embattled group is sticking together, and showing some improvement.

In the end, Pritchard with his ability to drive, shoot and make flawless decisions along with the Ducks’ trapping defenses made the difference in a surprisingly close game.

Bruins Got the Message: Quality defensive effort by UCLA shuts down Cal, 50-40

By Morris Phillips

This wasn’t by statistical measures a great defensive effort by UCLA, but the Bruins did draw a line that the Cal Bears weren’t capable of crossing.

That line came minutes into the second half when Cal’s final lead of the afternoon (25-24) morphed into an 11-minute scoreless drought that propelled UCLA to a 50-40 win at Pauley Pavilion.

During that painfully lengthy dry spell the Bears took shots and missed shots or took shots, rebounded, only miss more shots. 14 misses in all concluding with Matt Bradley’s short jumper that trimmed UCLA’s lead to 38-27 with 5:55 remaining.

The drought could be attributed to Cal’s season as a whole in which they’ve digressed, failing to make more than 35 percent of their shots in four of their last six games.

“When we’re not making the three, we have to find other ways to score,” Coach Mark Fox said. “We were not scoring. I have to give them credit. We couldn’t score in the paint.”

Or UCLA could be the culprit, still smarting from their first home loss to Stanford in 15 years on Wednesday, and having to hear coach Mick Cronin say some very disparaging words as a result.

“Our older guys are bad defensive players, which is really ridiculous because it’s not like they didn’t do scouting reports before me,” Cronin said following the Stanford loss. “If you’re in your fifth year, you should know how to play defense by now.”

The Bruins definitely got Cronin’s message. They didn’t win the rebounding battle or protect the basketball (13 turnovers) but they piled up the stops.

“We should have held them to a lot less than 40. We gave them a lot of layups, offensive rebounds and second-chance points,” said Chris Smith, who led UCLA with 17 points. “It was a decent defensive performance, but we could’ve definitely done better.”

Bradley led Cal with 17 We should have held them to a lot less than 40. We gave them a lot of layups, offensive rebounds and second-chance points. It was a decent defensive performance, but we could’ve definitely done better.”

After a rough weekend in Southern California, the Bears limp home with none of the momentum they built in beating both of the Washington schools. They’ll have a week to prepare for their rematch with Stanford, but that’s no cushy assignment. The Cardinal lead the Pac-12 with a 5-1 record and continue to prove that their one of the nation’s best defensively.

Bradley’s Banker In Overtime: Cal defeats Washington with dramatic 3-pointer, 61-58

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Winning ugly has a new signature: the dagger three off the bank in the final seconds of overtime.

Cal’s Matt Bradley pulled off the feat in the Bears’ 61-58 win over Washington, and while he didn’t gush over his game-winning basket, coach Mark Fox did.

“It was a thing of beauty,” Fox said. “As hard as he’s worked and as much as he’s bought in, he deserved to have that thing go down.”

Bradley’s basket with seven seconds remaining brought an end to what had to be characterized as an ugly ballgame with both teams failing miserably at the offensive end.

Through the conclusion of regulation, the Huskies and Bears had just 98 combined points, 33 missed 3-point shots, with both teams shooting less than 37 percent from the floor. And Cal managed got to the line for a minuscule, four free throw attempts.

The Huskies had an excuse of sorts in the academic disqualification of point guard Quade Green. In Green’s place, 6’6″ Jamal Bey was promoted to the starting lineup with Oakland’s Elijah Hardy in reserve. When Coach Mike Hopkins looked at the halftime stats and saw his club had seven made baskets and five of those were from three, Hopkins sat Bey and inserted Hardy.

But things didn’t improve much: Washington followed their 20-point first half with 34 percent shooting in the second, including 11 misses on 13 3-point attempts.

Cal was faring much better but primarily due to a spirited defensive effort that neutralized Isaiah Stewart, Washington’s leading scorer, with double teams in the post. Cal’s Andre Kelly deserved most of the credit for stopping Stewart by helping and recovering with great zeal.

But Cal’s 28-20 halftime lead dissipated with nine misses in a ten-shot stretch midway through the second half that allowed the Huskies to climb even with 6:39 remaining. But that would be effectively as close as Washington would come to stealing one from behind. Despite their edge on the glass and some, representative defensive moments of their own, UW simply missed too many shots.

“We had to fight from behind, but I still felt when we went up two we could have made some plays, but we didn’t,” Hopkins said. “We’ve got to finish better. We have to finish games.”

In the final seconds of regulation, Nahziah Carter missed a trio of shots, as did Bradley and Grant Anticevich for Cal. Any of those shots would have forged a final minute lead, but none connected, and the game went to overtime.

In the extra session, Bey’s 3-pointer drew Washington even at 52 with 4:08 remaining. The significance? It would be the Huskies’ final made shot of the game, and their alternative plan to subsist on free throws and defensive rebounds would fall short.

That set the table for Bradley in the final seconds, and as implored by Fox in the previous timeout, the sophomore dribbled up to the top of the key and launched from straight away. The outstretched arm of 6’9″ Jaden Daniels caused Bradley to a quicker, higher release but the shot dropped off the bank setting off a celebration with seconds remaining.

The Bears (8-8, 2-1) have sought improvement in a lot of areas since their 4-0 start devolved into a December of losses, and finally that improvement has surfaced at the defensive end. Beating a talented Huskies team and holding them to a dreadful shooting percentage clearly ranks as Cal’s best win of the season to date.

“We’ve gotten a lot better focusing on defense, just knowing that if our shots aren’t falling we’ll win with defense,” Bradley said. “That kind of proved tonight.”

The Bears travel to Los Angeles this week for meetings with USC on Thursday and UCLA on Sunday afternoon.



Cal Comes Around: Pac-12 home opening win over WSU, 73-66, ends frustrating stretch for the Bears

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–For the Cal Bears Thursday night everything went wrong, including the lead up. That included a week of practice that coach Mark Fox said was poor, a couple of players got injured, an uneven shootaround, then the start of the game against Washington State, in which the Bears found themselves doubled up, and trailing by 13.

Talk about making your opponent feel comfortable: in the game’s first 11 1/2 minutes, eight Cougars played, eight Cougars scored, and none took or needed more than three shots to get on the board. WSU led 26-13.

But as quickly as things went wrong, they went right: the Bears finished the half on a 25-5 run and never looked back. Cal’s first win in a month, on the critical occasion of the Pac-12 home opener, 73-66 over WSU, seemingly came out of nowhere.

“It took us a while to calm down, and also it took a while to get our defense to the level it needed to be,” Fox said. “And once we were able to stabilize we clawed out of the hole and played fairly stable the rest of the game.”

Matt Bradley led Cal with a career-best 26 points and 10 rebounds, including a three with less than a minute remaining, that increased Cal’s 69-66 lead to six points. Bradley had a different view of the week’s practices than did Fox, but no one could dispute that Cal’s offensive leader had struggled. Coming in Bradley had slumped, shooting just 38 percent from the field since December 1, and only 25 percent from three.

But against WSU, Bradley started early and finished the Cougars late, making 10 of 14 shots, and coming up with some smart decisions when faced with an array of double teams.

“These last couple of games have been pretty rough for me and my team,” Bradley said. “We’ve been trying to figure out here and there but we had a great week of practice.  The only thing, we said, ‘stay competitive, stay fighting hard, and stay tough.'”

“It’s not all on him,” Fox said of Bradley. “But you love the fact that the guy who’s arguably one of your best players is taking that much responsibility.”

Paris Austin contributed a season-best 17 points for the Bears, and Grant Anticevich added 12. Cal played without Juhwan Harris-Dyson and Jacobi Gordon due to injuries.

Washington State was led by C.J. Elleby with 22 points, and Noah Williams who had 16. Elleby is the son of Bill Elleby, who was a scoring guard for the Bears in the 90’s. The Cougars flamed out after their fast start, turning the ball over 22 times, and allowing 32 points in the paint. The Bears shot 55 percent in the first half, and 51 percent for the game.

Washington State, coming off an impressive, come-from-behind, home win over UCLA faces Stanford on Saturday. The Bears host Washington, who were surprised by Stanford’s closing run in Thursday’s loss.



No Shot: Bears’ offense disappears in lopsided Pac-12 opening loss at Stanford

By Morris Phillips

STANFORD, CA–The Stanford Cardinal aren’t physically imposing, blessed with great depth, foot speed or rebounding acumen, but they consistently carry themselves as a formidable defensive team.

So far–with non-conference play complete and the Pac-12 schedule in front of them–their portrayal of themselves holds weight. Stanford ranks 13th (out of 350) nationally, allowing just 58.8 points per game, while forcing opponents into 39 percent shooting from the floor.

On Thursday night at Maples Pavilion against rival Cal, Stanford posted even better numbers in their conference-opening 68-52 drubbing of the visiting Bears. Beyond the points allowed and Cal’s 30 percent shooting for the game, Stanford forced 18 turnovers leaving Cal literally in shambles.

“Our team has had an epidemic of turnovers throughout the year,” said coach Mark Fox. “It wasn’t just tonight, and that’s taking nothing away from Stanford, which has a very good defense. We have to get it fixed.”

Cal started fast, seeing results from their pressure defenses that propelled them to an early 7-2 lead. But as quickly as things came together, they fell apart, as Stanford responded with an 11-0 run and never trailed again.

Daejon Davis led Stanford with 20 points, Tyrell Terry added 14, and Bryce Wills 10, as the Cardinal carried through on their intention to attack the Bears in the paint. An early timeout seemed to get the Cardinal refocused.

“We were literally jacking 3’s and not being aggressive going to the basket,” Davis said.

For the second straight game Cal held the edge on the glass, outrebounding Stanford 41-30, but it mattered little once the Bears’ shots weren’t falling. Leading scorers Matt Bradley and Kareem South fared the worst, missing 18 of their combined 24 shots.

“That’s tough for our team to overcome because we just don’t have a lot of other firepower around (Bradley and South),” Fox said.

The Bears have lost 8 of 10 following their 4-0 start, and have yet to win away from Haas Pavilion. What’s worse was the Bears’ paltry point total. They’ve now matched their season-low in points (52) not once, but twice, also in losses to Santa Clara and Duke.

Cal hosts their Pac-12 home opener on Thursday against Washington State with Washington visiting Berkeley on Saturday.




Winter Break Tutorial: Harvard schools Cal on the finer defensive points at Haas, wins 71-63

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Harvard visited Haas Pavilion on Sunday. It wasn’t supposed to be the educational experience for the Bears it turned out to be.

Chris Lewis scored 19 points, Christian Juzang had 14 as the Crimson compensated for the absence of leading scorer Bryce Aiken with a strong defensive effort in beating the Cal Bears, 71-63.

Harvard held Cal to 37 percent shooting in the first half, 35 percent for the game and never trailed. The visitors from the Ivy League led by 15 at one point in the second half and were never really threatened. Cal’s one statistical advantage–a 13-3 edge on the offensive glass–was merely a mirage. Often Cal missed shots, rebounded and missed again.

Tommy Amaker, the former Duke star and Harvard’s head coach, loved what he saw from his team defensively.

“Our defense is our calling card for our program,” Amaker said. “We’ve built our program around our defense. Our guys give great effort. We play a lot of players so we should be pretty fresh out there. I would love for us to be able to do that on one end and be a little more efficient on the other end. That’s the goal. But certainly was pleased with the team defensive effort that we gave.”

If losing as a Power 5 to an Ivy League opponent wasn’t disconcerting enough, the Crimson did it in a very un-Ivy League manner. They blocked shots. Harvard turned back 11 Cal shots, seven by their starting posts, 6’8″ Mason Forbes and the 6’9″ Lewis.

Aiken, averaging a team-leading 16.7 ppg, was in a walking boot before the game. Amaker didn’t divulge many details regarding his injury, but he was a surprise scratch. Cal was unaware of Aiken’s unavailability until the opening tap.

The Bears have lost seven of nine after a 4-0 start, and now look to their Pac-12 opener at Stanford on Thursday with the conference’s only losing record (6-7) at this juncture. Eight of the 12 members have lost either twice or three times, including Stanford (11-2). Cal is trying to avoid a third, consecutive season in the Pac-12’s basement.

Defense has been a major issue with the Bears, and it was again Sunday. Harvard shot 57 percent before halftime to jump to 34-24 lead at the break. The offense was absence as mentioned, especially from leading scorer Matt Bradley, who missed 10 of his 14 shots, including all six of 3-point attempts.

“We don’t have a ton of guys who are consistent scorers and so the focus of the defense is going to be geared towards certainly Matt. And he’s going to have to really work to move without the ball, and learn to be more efficient,” head coach Mark Fox explained.

“He’s learning how to play the role of a lead role player, and he’s having to do that on the fly. And there’s a lot that comes with that.”

Bradley led Cal with 15 points. Kareem South added 13, and Grant Anticevich had 12.

Harvard cut Cal off at the point of attack as well. Starting point guard Paris Austin and his backup Joel Brown were a combined 2 of 12 shooting, and compiled just five assists.

Cal opens Pac-12 play with three of their first five on the road with a trip to Los Angeles following a homestand against the Washington schools. Given the Bears’ desire to jump out of the conference basement, their conference home opener against the WSU Cougars is an opportunity not to be missed.

Why? When you’re struggling, you don’t run across too many, beatable opponents. That’s Cal’s reality at the moment.


Bears blow an opportunity for a brighter Christmas, lose to Boston College, 64-60 in the final minutes

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Travel-weary Boston College afforded the Cal Bears a fast start. The Bears in turn kept the door open, and allowed the Eagles a chance to creep back into the contest.

In the end, it wasn’t an even swap.

BC made the adjustments in their offensive attack, got nastier on the glass, and pulled out a much-needed 64-60 win over Cal at the Chase Center on Saturday. The meeting of struggling Power 5 conference teams went to the visitors from the East Coast and they couldn’t have been happier.

“In the second half, we played smarter,” Boston College coach Jim Christian said.

The Bears have dropped six of eight after a 4-0 start to the season. Christian and his Eagles won their fourth straight after losing five of six. Both teams craved a win, but Boston College kept the mistakes to a minimum down the stretch.

“I thought we were just settling for threes,” Christian said. “We were taking the first three available to start the game. We hit a couple early, which sometimes is a bad thing. In the second half we played really smart.”

Cal led by 12 early, then they went scoreless for the final seven minutes plus of the half, and saw their lead sliced to three at the break. They seemed to take control again leading 48-37 with 11:43 remaining. But their points in the paint, and transition opportunities slowed, and BC quietly creeped back in.

“You can’t play 34 or 36 minutes,” Coach Mark Fox admitted. “You have to play a great segment of quality minutes, and tonight we didn’t do that.”

Fox cited six missed free throws in the opening 20 minutes as a major factor in the loss. Those misses kept Cal from extending their double-digit lead, according to Fox, and that factored heavily into BC’s initial comeback.

Neither team accomplished anything of note from distance. Both teams missed eight of nine 3-point attempts before the half. Cal controlled the paint, getting strong, offensive games from Andre Kelly and Lars Thiemann. The 7’0″ center Thiemann enjoyed his best game in a Cal uniform eight points, nine rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench. But Cal’s turnover count mounted (11 of their 16 turnovers came after halftime) and their shot selection deteriorated.

“I should have made sure we finished this game out–as captain and one of our leaders. That didn’t happen tonight. Obviously, I’m frustrated with myself,” said Matt Bradley, who led the Bears 21 points, but missed six of his seven attempts from distance.

The Bears now turn their attention towards their final non-conference contest against Harvard on December 29. Cal is trying to avoid a third, consecutive last place finish in the Pac-12, and they’ve now become the first conference school to lose six times this season.

Meanwhile, the conference continues to trend upward despite the top three programs–Arizona, Washington and Oregon–all losing to highly-regarded Gonzaga. While Cal has six losses, seven other Pac-12 schools have lost just once or twice, including Stanford, who won the opening contest of the Al Attles Classic against San Diego 62-59. The Cardinal are 11-1, their best start to a season in a decade.

CHRISTIAN’S ROUGH WEEK: BC coach Jim Christian hobbled up and down his team’s sideline on crutches with a pained look on his face, the aftermath of ankle microfracture surgery he had on Monday in Boston.

Christian conceded the cross-country flight to San Francisco was painful. He anticipated the flight back also will be agonizing.

The former Cornell coach retained his sense of humor however when explaining what led to the surgery.

“I injured my ankle in a dunk contest,” he said.

Bears Back In The Win Column: Back-and-forth game with Fresno State goes to Cal, 69-63

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, Calif. — Kareem South is just the type of player the Cal Bears need to get things turned around after two last place finishes in the Pac-12.

The Toronto native has size, smarts and a competitive streak that surfaces in tight ballgames. Not only that, South’s well-spoken after games–win or lose.

But the truth is the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi graduate transfer is here today, gone tomorrow, already 10 games into a Cal career that won’t last more than 35 games.

So, Wednesday’s meeting with visiting Fresno State was get it, or go without it for South. He chose get it, scoring 17 points and helping lead the Bears to a 69-63 win over the Bulldogs that had some tense moments late.

South did most of his scoring early with 15 of his 17 in the game’s first 30 minutes as the hot-shooting Bears led by three at the break, put couldn’t gain any separation from Fresno St. as the second half progressed.

South’s 3-pointer with 10:43 remaining put the Bears up 47-43, but they couldn’t pull away, establishing a pair of seven-point leads only to see the Bulldogs get within one, 59-58 with 3:38 left.

But the Bears responded with a 7-0 run that gave them their biggest lead if the night with 25 seconds remaining. Matt Bradley had four of his team-best 24 points in the closing stretch, sealing a nice bounce back for a team that had lost four of five, with all the losses on the road and by double-digits.

“Coach had certain aspects he wanted us to key in on, which was our defensive rebounding and playing sound and solid on the defensive end,” South said. “We also did a good job taking care of the ball and shot the ball pretty well.”

“We really locked in and got ourselves ready to play Fresno State, and I think tonight it showed We had a lot of confidence, and we were able to close it out during the last five minutes of play,” said Bradley, coming off losses at USF and Santa Clara that he personally was happy to put behind him. “I feel good about this win.”

When things got tight in the final minutes, the often stoic, coach Mark Fox implored the Haas Pavilion crowd to turn up the volume, sensing his x and o’s might not be enough against a credible Fresno State team.

“Our team is not battle-tested and they’re learning something new on both ends of the court,” Fox said. “We’re going to need our fans to stand up and break a sweat because this team has to overachieve.”

Fresno State lost for fifth straight game, the previous two in overtime. New Williams led the Bulldogs with 21 points, five rebounds, and Mustafa Lawrence added 16 off the bench.

The Bears next take the hardwood on Saturday hosting the St. Mary’s Gaels. The game starts at 7:30 p.m. as part of a doubleheader with the Cal women, who host Santa Clara in the opener at 4:30 p.m.

Bears’ offense absent for long stretches in 71-52 loss at Santa Clara

By Morris Phillips

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Cal coach Mark Fox shook up his lineup on Saturday at Santa Clara in response to his team’s sluggish defensive effort at USF where they fell 76-64.

Then Fox watched his team’s offense wander off in a 71-52 loss to the Broncos at the Leavey Center.

Defensively, the only discernible difference was its credibility for the first 10 minutes with Paris Austin and Andre Kelly starting in place of Joel Brown and Lars Thiemann.

In the final 30 minutes, with their shots not falling, the defense waned. Leading scorer Matt Bradley lost his cool and drew a technical in the second half, and the Bears fell for a fourth time in five games, with all the losses away from Berkeley, and by double-digits.

“I felt like the frustration of the ball not going in the basket contributed maybe to our play on the other end,” Fox said. “I don’t think our defense was anywhere good enough the entire night.”

Guglielmo Caruso paced Santa Clara with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Three other Broncos scored in double figures including DJ Mitchell, the transfer from Wake Forest, who put up 13 off the bench.

The Broncos rode two, motivational factors for the win: they were embarrassed last year in a 78-66 loss to Cal at Haas Pavilion. And they saw their 9-1 record blemished on Wednesday in a 31-point loss to Nevada in Reno.

“We were really young,” Caruso said of the loss to Cal. “That experience from last year translated into this year and helped us to get this W.”

Playing in their backyard at the facilities of their mid-major neighbors gives Cal a badge of good will, but they know they have to be ready to play. Only their accurate free throw shooting (21 of 26) carried them on Saturday. Missing 35 of their 49 shots from the field did not. That poor marksmanship included only five made baskets in the first half.

Bradley led Cal with 14 points, Kareem South and Grant Anticevich added nine each. The Bears managed 10 steals, contributing to 20 SCU turnovers, but creating havoc didn’t morph into creating baskets.

The Bears now turn their attention to a date with Fresno State in Berkeley on Wednesday. The Bulldogs from the Mountain West acquitted themselves nicely Saturday by leading for long stretches at No. 25 Utah State before succumbing 77-70 in overtime.

Cold in New York: Bears score season-low in 62-45 loss to No. 22 Texas

By Morris Phillips

Being a work in progress isn’t necessarily pretty. It wasn’t for the Bears in their two cold-shooting performances at Madison Square Garden.

Cal fell to No. 22 Texas in the 2K Empire Classic consolation game 62-45 on Friday, while shooting 36 percent from the field. The 45 points and their shooting percentage were season lows.

Coach Mark Fox’s premonition to have his club forgo perimeter shots given their opponent and their compressed schedule was smart thinking. But it didn’t benefit Cal, they cut down on the attempts, but still missed seven of the eight 3-pointers they took.

“It’s our fourth game in eight days, our second game in under 24 hours,” Fox said. “I didn’t feel like today would be a good 3-point shooting day for either team. I think we anticipated it would probably be a game where 3s are hard to come by.”

Shaka Smart’s Longhorns had a part in Cal’s cold shooting. One night after allowing Georgetown 45 points after halftime–and being outscored by 21 points–Texas made defense a point of emphasis. The bigger, more experienced Longhorns weren’t necessarily disruptive, blocking three shots and creating three steals, but they gave Cal fits by simply contesting shots and rebounding the misses.

“Today we responded from that loss last night,” said Texas forward Jericho Sims, who was one of four Longhorns’ starters to score in double figures. “I learned that we’re a gritty team and we just got to keep the strong identity.”

Texas certainly didn’t take control by making shots, as their 41 percent shooting wasn’t much better than the Bears. But they seized control with the outcome in doubt, starting the second half on an 18-9 run that stretched their lead to 13 points with 12:38 remaining. Seven different Longhorns had baskets in the run, as the Longhorns did a better job than Cal of sharing the basketball. Texas finished with 19 assists on 26 made baskets.

For Cal, the trip to New York to face top-ranked Duke and Texas was a reality check after their 4-0 start against lesser competition. Defensively, they were engaged, but did little offensively. Matt Bradley led the Bears with 22 points on Friday, and he registered as the only Cal scorer in double figures in either game, which shows were Cal needs to improve.

“We’ll use it hopefully as a great lesson in how we have to grow and change and improve. If we use it the right way, this weekend can be very productive for us,” Fox said.

Cal resumes its schedule on Tuesday when UC Davis visits Haas Pavilion.