Cardinal survive wild finish to topple Sun Devils 84-83 in season finale

Photo credit: gostanford.com

By Daniel Dullum
Sports Radio Service
Saturday, March 3, 2018

TEMPE, Ariz. – Playing in the Pac-12’s version of a home-away-from-home game, Phoenix native Dorian Pickens torched the Arizona State Sun Devils (20-10, 8-10 Pac-12) with 20 second-half points as the Stanford Cardinal (17-14, 11-7 Pac-12) hung on for a wild 84-83 win at Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday afternoon.

“It was one of those things where (the emotions of coming back home) doesn’t really hit you until after the game,” said Pickens, a former Pinnacle High School graduate. “In the pregame, I’m just thinking about my teammates and trying to get the win. We were able to do that and my teammates helped send me out the right way.”

“It felt great to be able to come back home and come out of it with a victory. I had a lot of people here, maybe 20, 25, a lot of friends and family, and all of the above!”

On his offensive exploits in the second half, Pickens said, “I just wanted to be more aggressive, around the perimeter, especially.”

“He’s just a big-time player,” Cardinal Coach Jerod Haase said of Pickens. “It’s not really a surprise, but a great feeling to see him do that, especially at home in front of family and friends.”

“To win on the road against a team like (ASU) meant a lot.”

Reid Travis scored 24 points (8-of-14 field goals) and grabbed 14 of Stanford’s 45 rebounds. Kezie Okpala added 18 points and 10 boards for the Cardinal, who hit 51 percent (27-of-53) from the field.

Going into Saturday’s regular season finale, Travis was averaging 22.3 points and 10.0 rebounds in his last four games.

Travis described the final five minutes as “hectic. I wish we would have taken care of the ball a little bit more, but we got stops when we needed to, so I couldn’t be happier with the way we finished out the game.”

The victory gave Stanford a shot at finishing in the top four of the Pac-12 standings and a first-round bye in the conference’s upcoming postseason tournament in Las Vegas.

“In the non-conference, we battled and stuck together, which was really cool,” Haase said. “After the loss at home to Cal, our team has done some nice things. I think there’s still a long way to go with our quality of play, but the mental side, the competitiveness, is really cool to see as a coach.”

“Regardless of where we wind up, we’re going into (the Pac-12 tournament) excited.”

The Sun Devils, who struggled in conference play after a blazing start, look for redemption in the Pac-12 tournament. Tra Holder led ASU’s balanced attack with 19 points, followed by Shannon Evans II with 17 and 14 points each by Kodi Justice and Remy Martin.

Holder, Evans and Justice each hit three 3-pointers as the Devils were 10-of-27 behind the arc.

“This game is who we are,” ASU Coach Bobby Hurley said. “We have an amazing will to win, and character. The make the plays we made and claw our way back, we gave ourselves a chance to win.”

“I love my chances with the group I have against whoever we play in the postseason in Vegas and in the NCAA tournament.”

The Cardinal led by 19 points less than four minutes into the second half after opening the half with a 15-1 run after leading 40-35 at the break. But with basketball being a game of runs, Arizona State battled back with a 16-4 run, capped by Kimani Lawrence’s layup at 12:45, pulling the Devils to within 59-54.

“In 20 or 18 minutes against a team like this, there was never a comfort level at all,” Haase said. “Our guys stayed steadfast, continued to score on the offensive end, and we got enough stops on defense.”

Hurley said, “We got behind and always fought to get back in it. I thought the difference in the game could be as simple as the last four minutes of the first half, and we had empty possessions where we didn’t make shots that we usually make.”

“To start the second half, we didn’t have enough energy and (Stanford) was able to generate the lead that they did.”

Over the next three minutes, the Cardinal pushed their lead back to 11 on a Pickens 3-pointer, but ASU battled back again. Kodi Justice drained a 3 with 3:05 to play as the Sun Devils used a 5-minute, 16-7 run to cut their deficit to 79-77.

Another 3-pointer by Justice with 1:13 remaining tied the game at 82-82, but Arizona State could never surge ahead while both teams struggled at the free throw line down the stretch.

Daejon Davis, playing with four fouls, hit a jumper at :42 to break the deadlock, and on the ensuing possession, Justice missed a pair of free throws with :20 left. Two seconds later, Pickens missed two free throws, and after Josh Sharma missed a layup, Justice sank 1-of-2 foul shots to cut Stanford’s lead to 84-83 with 5 seconds remaining.

“Daejon has done so many great things throughout the year and he made a key basket late again,” Haase said. “For a freshman, he has a level of poise and calmness about him that, I think, spreads to the rest of the team.”

After Travis turned the ball over on an inbound play, ASU had one final possession, but Martin missed a short jumper as time expired.

“We made some mistakes, but they made some too,” Haase said. “There were some tough shots, some tough 3s. I thought we played with a great deal of poise and I thought this game would have a lot of ebbs and flows. And it did.”

The Pac-12 Tournament starts Wednesday in Las Vegas.

Stanford defeats Pac-12’s #1 UCLA 107-99 in double OT

Photo: @StanfordMBB

By Alexandra Evans

The Stanford Cardinal Men’s Basketball team (now 7-8) kicked off 2018 with a match against the visiting UCLA Bruins, who went into the match 11-3 (first place in the Pac-12 Conference).

After UCLA took the lead for the first part of the game, Dorian Pickens tied the score 22-22 (with a three-pointer) with six minutes left in the first half, as the shot clock reached zero. Travis then got a layup and a free throw to give the Cardinal the lead once again (25-24), and Dorian Pickens got another three-pointer just after the Bruins’ Jaylen Hands got a jumper, and the Cardinal trailed by only one point.

For the remaining minutes of the match, the Bruins managed to re-tie the score each time the Cardinal took a lead. After Hands’ basket, Michael Humphrey shot for Stanford, then 30 seconds later, UCLA’s Gyorgy Goloman made a three-pointer and tied the score 30-30. Oscar da Silva got a layup, but Aaron Holiday (who leads UCLA in points per game) made both free throws and gave the Bruins a 34-32 lead.

Then, it was Stanford who had to catch up. Kris Wilkes got a layup for UCLA to give them a 36-32 lead. It took two layups from Okpala to tie the score again (36-36). The Bruins clearly weren’t having it, determined to keep their lead. Prince Ali (not to be mistaken with the Disney character Aladdin’s alter ego) got a three-pointer and a layup within 30 seconds of one another. The Bruins led the Cardinal 41-36 at halftime.

The Cardinal, moved to make a comeback against the conference’s first-place team, inch their way up on the scoreboard each time the Bruins took a lead, which the latter team managed to keep. Shots alternated between both teams, beginning with Travis, then UCLA’s Thomas Welsh, a three-pointer from Stanford’s Daejon Davis, two free throws from Holiday, another three-pointer by Pickens, then one from Holiday, a layup from Okpala, and two completed free throws from Holiday which put the Bruins four points ahead at 50-46.

After a time-out just before the five-minute mark, Pickens got his fourth three-pointer of the night, bringing the Cardinal down by only one point. Despite a consistent number of baskets  for the Cardinal at the 30-minute mark of the match (10 minutes into the second period), they remained inferior to the Bruins, who were up by 10 at that point (71-61).

UCLA increased their double-digit lead as soon as Goloman got a three-pointer, and they stayed ahead even after Okpala made two free throws (the Cardinal trailed 74-63). Davis cut Stanford’s trail to single digits (after making a layup and a free throw, and after a dunk from Travis right after Holiday’s layup. Though Ali made a three-pointer and gave the Bruins a 12-point lead, Humphrey got a three pointer followed by a dunk, and the Cardial only trailed by seven, then only by five when Pickens got a layup with four minutes left in the game.

After a free throw from UCLA’s Alex Olesinski and two from Davis, Stanford trailed only by four. Wilkes was fouled for the Bruins, giving Davis two free throw opportunities. He made only one, after which the Cardinal were only a three-pointer away from tying the Bruins.

Da Silva got a layup assisted by Pickens with 46 seconds left in the game, and then the Cardinal were only a basket away from exceeding the Bruins. However, a layup from Holiday allowed the Bruins to keep their lead. Humphrey was fouled with 18 seconds left, but Ali missed both free throws for UCLA. Miraculously, Pickens got another three-pointer, his fifth of the night, with six seconds left to tie the score 85-85.

In overtime, Humphrey made two free throws to give the Cardinal their first lead since the opening minutes of the first half, but the Bruins quickly came back when Thomas Welsh made a layup and a free throw. Davis got a layup and gave Stanford a one-point lead (89-88), but after Goloman made a free throw, the score was tied again, and then the Bruins regained their lead after a jumper from Holiday (91-89).

Okpala tied the score with two and a half minutes left (91-91), and then it was up to the Cardinal’s defense to ensure the Bruins would not surpass them yet again, which they managed to do. And then, with only half a minute left, da Silva dunked and gave the Cardinal the lead. After a successful free throw from Okpala, they were ahead 94-91 until Holiday made a buzzer-beating three-pointer. The score was tied once again (94-94), sending the match into a second overtime period.

It was all defense for the Cardinal as the Bruins had possession of the ball when the second OT period began. Okpala was fouled, and then Ali made two free throws to give the Bruins a two point lead. Josh Sharma got a layup for the Cardinal and tied the score 96-96, but then he was fouled. Ali made one free throw and the Bruins were only one point ahead. There was hope for the Cardinal, until Sharma was fouled again, giving Ali two more free throw opportunities. He made both, and the Bruins led the Cardinal 99-96.

Pickens made two free throws after Holiday was fouled, cutting the Bruins’ lead to only one point. Sharma was fouled again for Stanford, after which Hands failed to make both free throw opportunities. Goloman was fouled for UCLA, giving Isaac white two free throw opportunities, which he missed. Pickens made his sixth free throw of the evening, and the Cardinal were in the lead again (101-99).

Davis saved the day (or, rather, the evening) when he got a layup with half a minute remaining to give the Cardinal a four point lead (103-99). White again received two free throw opportunities when Hands was fouled, both of which he made. Pickens also made two free throws, and the Cardinal took home a 107-99 victory.

Pickens and Davis led the team in points with 26 and 22 points, respectively, and Travis (who had 18 points) led the team in rebounds with 11.

Next, Stanford will face the USC Trojans (10-5) on Sunday, January 7 at home.

Morris Phillips on the NCAA

by Morris Phillips

BERKELEY–The Cal Bears are getting confidence with these non conference games wins like the one Saturday against the Fresno State Bull Dogs 67-56 in an 11 point victory and it’s an opportunity to gain confidence with a young basketball team which is great. The Bears have got new players that haven’t had expereince at the division one level and that’s why home games or pre conference games are so critical so that will help them.

The Bears didn’t see anybody of size this week and obviously when the conference games start they will be seeing bigger teams and taller players and the Bears will have to contend with those teams. At that point Cal will be the smaller team of the group. Especially they played Nevada and Fresno State on Saturday at Haas Pavilion and they saw a pair of undersize teams and that won’t be the case in the Pac 12.

The one thing that’s going on right now for the first time since 2006 the number one team in the country is from the Pac 12 Arizona who won against Michigan to secure that number one spot and the Pac 12 looks to be as balanced and competitive as it has been in years top to bottom and their already getting raves for being one of the strong leagues in the country.

Once again Cal is not in a conference schedule there is nothing compared to what they will see once the conference season starts. Just to run through the team, Arizona is number one, Oregon is ranked, Washington State looks to be much improved, Washington as like Cal a younger team trying to find it’s way.

Stanford is kind of interesting they just lost their point guard Aaron Bright for the season the Pac 12 is going to be a bear and every week it’s going to be tough ball games that are going to be very closely contested. Cal is going to be right there in the mix. They are younger and less experienced than some of the teams that they will face.

Morris Phillips covers Cal basketball and is filling in for Dr.Michelle Richardson this week for the NCAA commentary

Michelle Richardson on the NCAA

 by Michelle Richardson
Auburn 34 Alabama 28: This was one of the most exciting games and exciting might not be even the right word to use that’s how great it was and at the very end of the game when Chris Davis returned the ball from a botched field goal for over 100 yards that’s how you want to win the game. Auburn did this against their arch rival and you can’t ask for anything more. The game was great it was pretty evenly matched the time of possession was about the same. Alabama has about 1:34 left and couldn’t hold the ball and Alabama had more penalties they had six penalties for 45 yards.
Auburn had only three penalties for 21 yards, Auburn had a fumble and they had a turnover and Alabama had no turnovers and there were no interceptions so the game was played well. It was just one of those things. How do you explain it, you just can’t explain it was one of those things that makes football in November so exciting and I tell people over and over it’s great when football season starts but November it is the time of the year that’s when you know who the real deal and whose not.
Remember what it doesn’t matter what happens in September or October in football but it’s November it’s all about what happens in November because that’s when the games really matter. People play these games and know they have to win them because these are the ones that have to be won in order to advance to the next level for bowl games. Auburn let it be known they won it. I can’t tell you Alabama wasn’t in it maybe they thought they should be looking forward to the SCC Championship instead of concentrating on the game that was in front of them.
Pac 12 Championship: Stanford is made up of a group of very poised young men and they can play anywhere as they play this Championship in Arizona State this coming Saturday night. They have more issues amongst their peers than on the field. Arizona State is not going to let you just walk in and take over by no means and their not going let you do this last dynasty stuff. Stanford is going to go in there and play but it’s believed that Stanford can and should go down there and pull off a win.
It will be a good game and who would have thought this would be the year that it would be Stanford and Arizona State to represent the Pac 12 as everybody had Oregon picked to win and these teams proved otherwise. Oregon was just a little bit over hyped and that’s why they play the games. That’s why the games are played. Somebody isn’t just going to show up and get handed the title. Stanford had a tough loss against USC in their last loss but it ended the season with a 10-2 record.
Stanford is in the Pac 12 Championship and have earned a spot in the BCS bowl and Arizona State who quietly dominated for the most part the Pac 12 south. It’s going to be a great game and it’s evenly matched but I have still have Stanford coming out on top. I wouldn’t be surprised however if ASU shows us a little something something on Saturday night.
Villanova 88 Iowa 83 Big Ten/ACC hoops: Honestly this was a great game with Villanova winning it on Saturday and I take nothing away from either team but I’ll be honest with you it’s too early. This tournament was a great tournament and these were great games but don’t talk to me until you get to conference play. It’s December and January you’ll be in the conference play and you’ll be getting beat up and we might not see these teams again and then again you might not.
It’s like the last week in August or the second week in September when their still beating up on Liberty or Appalachian State. Lets all kind of calm down we’ve seen some really good basketball so far, there’s some very exciting players out there for Iowa and this was really a good game. Villanova was all over the floor with players like Jayvaughn Pinkston with 14 points and James Bell at guard he had 20 points and then they had Chris Jenkins, Josh Hart had 14, also they had key help from Ryan Arcidiacono.
This game came down to bench play and Villanova had three people on the bench that was in double figures and that’s a good showing that was very large. This was a great game and I can’t wait to see more games like this and it’s just the beginning and we have to wait until they get into conference play.
Michelle Richardson does NCAA commentary each week for Sportstalk Radio

Michael Duca on Cal football and basketball

by Michael Duca

BERKELEY–Anytime you have a chance to make history and this year the Cal football Bears have made history, they are among the worst team among the FDS in every category and therefore in the long and storied history of the Big Game which is coming up this Saturday at Stanford they are the biggest underdogs ever. Do you want to know what their in store for?

This will shock you but I would tell you to take Cal and points in this game on Saturday and the only way that Cal could be able to beat the spread with their 32 points and their never going beat the spread and hold the score down and the only way your going to hold the score down is to run the football. Their going to actually concentrate on running the football and Stanford is going to expect them not to run the football.

Their going to concentrate on trying to control the ball on the ground and Cal can’t do that they only have two Pac 12 quality lineman and that’s the problem. These games, these rivalry games can throw everything out the window and they don’t even bother printing these in the racing forms because there is no forms to these games. Remember Joe Kapp’s last game was an 17-11 victory over a Stanford team that was a four touchdown favorite.

Is there any chance for Cal to pull out a miracle and shock the crowd at Stanford with a win answer: I don’t think the band will be on the field.

Cal hoops: Playtime is over the real games start next week in Maui for the Maui Invitational to face some really good teams, the Maui tournament will see Arkansas, Baylor, Cal, Chaminade, Dayton, Gonzaga, Minnesota, and Syracuse, and Cal will find out what a good team really is. This team is doing well going into the tournament they are 4-0 the last time Cal was 4-0 going into a tournament they were riding high and they were fat, dumb, and happy and they went back to Wisconsin and played a Big Ten that just physically manhandled them.

From the time they tried to leave the locker room and until the time they got on the bus to go back home they have not forgotten that and they have brought that and a little bit more focus in the Pac 12. They realize they have a chance to be a really decent team this year. They may not be at the very top pius echelon of the Pac 12 this year looks like Arizona and UCLA are those big teams but Cal is right behind them which means all they need one or two players or wins in winning the league and that’s always been their goal.

Guard Justin Cobbs he was fine the other night after recovering from an injury. The first question we asked Cal head coach Mike Montgomery last Monday night after beating Southern Utah was what did he learn about his team after a game like that? Montgomery was honest he said, “not very much.” Southern Utah was overmatched physically and talent wise from about the time they got off the airplane.

However their coached by a former player at Stanford Nick Robinson suddenly it gave Robinson an opportunity to play a in bigger arena in front of 4,000 to 5,000 people which is more than who their going to play in front of in Utah.

Michael Duca does commentary on Cal football and basketball each week for Sportstalk Radio

Bears fall again in the “Battle of the Bad”

By Morris Phillips

Cal saw its opportunity to finally grab a win blowing in the wind on Saturday.  The Bears traveled to Boulder, Colorado and the gusty winds during the game blew so fierce that simply completing a pass became a chore for quarterback Jared Goff and his receivers.

But the same couldn’t be said for Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau and the Buffs.

Liufau threw for a career-best 364 yards and Colorado posted a big second quarter in a 41-24 win over Cal.  The Bears were in the contest briefly tied at 10  in the second quarter, but fell to 1-10 with one game at Stanford remaining in what has been a dismal season in Berkeley.

Described by the Denver Post’s John Henderson as the “Game of the Weak” and “The Battle of the Bad,” the Cal-CU game matched one team with 14-game conference losing streak against a team that hadn’t beaten a Division I opponent in well over a year.  But the Bears blinked first, allowing the true freshman to complete 23 of 36 passes, including three touchdowns, in miserable conditions.

Liufau didn’t need much help outside Paul Richardson and Nelson Spruce, who combined for 19 catches and 280 yards in offense.  Neither receiver were the recipient of Luifau’s touchdown passes, but Spruce sealed the deal when he scooped Cal’s onside kick in the fourth quarter and raced into the end zone to put Colorado up 41-17.

“That was the first time the University of Colorado has seen a Pac-12 win at home.  So I think that’s a stepping block for us,” Coach Mike MacIntyre said.

Goff struggled to throw the ball in the wind, completing just 23 of his 45 attempts, while getting picked once.  Coach Sonny Dykes briefly replaced Goff with Zach Kline, but went back to Goff, who engineered a couple of cosmetically-enhancing touchdowns late.

With passing difficult, the Bears found space running the ball with Khalfani Muhammad and Brendan Bigelow.  Bigelow rushed for 107 yards and a score, and Muhammad’s 54-yard touchdown run in the second quarter brought the Bears even, if only briefly.

Colorado responded with 24 straight points and midway through the fourth quarter, the outcome was assured.

The Bears dropped their 13th consecutive game against Pac-12 competition and probably won’t see much improve in the remainder of 2013.  Not only have the Bears dealt with the losses, they’ve performed poorly in the classroom, causing Athletic Director Sandy Barbour to address the issue and promise academic improvement.  And then this week, an unspecified member of the team was suspended indefinitely for his role in a locker room fight that saw freshman running back Fabiano Hale end up in a local hospital.

Cal hopes for redemption at Colorado

By George Devine, Sr.

After a 62-28 loss to USC in this year’s last game at Berkeley, the Bears hope for their first Division I win of the season at Colorado, kicking off at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 16.

The Buffaloes lost their 14th straight Pac-12 game and are 0-6 in conference this year (3-6 overall), bringing up the rear in the South division as Cal (0-7, 1-9) is in the North division cellar.

The Colorado loss was to Washington, 59=70. Huskies are now 6-3/3-3 and bowl eligible. Leading the charge for the Buffs against Cal will be WR Paul Richardson and running backs Tony Jones and Christian Powell. On defense, ILB Addison Gillam will give the “Bear Raid” offense trouble, despite the chemistry achieved this year between Cal QB Jared Goff and wideout Kenny Lawler, a fellow freshman.

Following the game at Colorado, the Bears will go to Stanford for the annual Big Game, this year on Saturday, November 13 at a time TBD.

Cal’s Wallace shot on in season-opening win over Coppin St.

By Morris Phillips

Among Mike Montgomery’s mix of veterans and greenhorns, sophomore Tyrone Wallace may possess the greatest potential for growth.  In the season-opener on Friday, it appeared Wallace may be ready to realize that potential.

Wallace collected 20 points, seven assists and six rebounds in Cal’s 83-64 win over Coppin State at Haas Pavilion.   The still rail-thin swingman looked much improved from his up-and-down freshman campaign in which he played in every game, and started 20 times, but shot just 34 percent, including just 22 percent from three.

“Basketball, 24-7, this off-season,” Wallace said when asked about the growth in his game.  “All the work I put in is really translating over to games and I am really confident right now in my shot.”

Wallace knocked down half of his 14 shots, including three of six three-point attempts on his way to leading the Bears in scoring.  Cal depended on heavily on its starters in dispatching the Eagles, playing them extensively in a first half in which the Bears established a 15-point, halftime lead.  Cal’s shooting and wow-factor improved in the second half as high-flying freshman Jabari Bird put his imprint on the game.

Justin Cobbs added 16 points and six rebounds, and Bird chipped in 14 points and seven rebounds.  Coppin State was led by Sterling Smith with 16 points and Arnold Fripp with 10.

The Bears have won all six of their season openers under Coach Montgomery and are attempting to make a fifth NCAA appearance under the watch of the veteran coach.

“There were a lot of bright spots,” Montgomery said.  “We had some really good individual performances…  I thought we lost our attention span defensively a little bit.  There was probably a point in time where we didn’t feel threatened so we didn’t play quite as hard defensively.”

The Bears are picked in the middle of a crowded Pac-12 conference race, primarily because the eight newcomers outnumber the five returners.  Wallace stands out because he’s not quite a veteran, but with 21 starts under his belt, experienced enough to know what Montgomery demands at both ends of the floor.  The Bakersfield native became a natural at the defensive end, but given his statistics, he could make a great deal of growth on offense.  Friday all that was apparent as Wallace knocked down open shots and found his teammates when appropriate.

According to Coppin State Coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell, the Bears offensive versatility gave his Eagles fits, as much as their lack of size made them vulnerable to the Bears in the paint.

“They shot the threes, made us extend a lot more, and then they started taking it in,” Mitchell said. “They did a tremendous job.”

The Bears host familiar opponent Denver on Tuesday in the continuation of a four-game homestand.  Cal may not get its first real test until Thanksgiving when the Bears travel to Maui and open the tournament there against Arkansas.

Cal hosts Trojans in last home game

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By George Devine, Sr.

Cal ends its home season for 2013 by hosting USC at Noon on Saturday, November 9. The Trojans are coming off a 31-14 win at Oregon State on Friday, November 1 under interim coach Ed Orgeren who is 3-1. Marqise Lee is back in uniform for the visitors, and had 5 catches for 105 yards, including a 71-yare touchdown. He will be hard to stop in Strawberry Canyon. In addition, the Bears will be up against a formidable secondary which put the stop to the vaunted Beavers. USC is now 3-1 in the Pac-12 and 6-3 overall.

Cal, in losing 33-28 to Arizona, has continued its pattern of demonstrating impressive individual statistics in a series of losses (1-7). QB Jared Goff now is fifth on Berkeley’s list for single-season passing yards (2,881) but this is his team’s worst year in recent memory. Key factors are the predictability of Coach Sonny Dykes’ “Bear Raid” offense led by Goff, the inability of the offensive line to give Goff time to find his receivers, the tendency to overthrow so as to avoid effective coverage, and the inability to turn long passes into trips across the goal line. Add to that an injury-ridden defense which the San Francisco Chronicle last week referred to as “porous”, a description used earlier in this space.

Despite the loss, the score was close for much of the game and demonstrated the Bears’ most effective outing against a Division 1 team this year. A high spot for the Bears against the Wildcats was the performance of freshman Kenny Lawler, who caught three touchdown passes. He will be expected to challenge the USC defense. Another redshirt freshman, Cedric Dozier, started at cornerback against Arizona and may figure in the USC game as well.

Cal’s next two games are on the road: November 16 at Colorado and the Big Game at Stanford November 23. Kickoff times are TBD.

Bears growl but fall short against Arizona

Arizona-Cal

By Morris Phillips

In the absence of actual wins, the Cal Bears have been relegated to attempting to grab small victories wherever they can manage.

In losing to Arizona 33-28 on Saturday–and falling to 1-8 on the season—the Bears found themselves in a winnable game in the second half for the first time in Pac-12 play.  In a season this trying, adversity on the scoreboard has been a constant.  But this time out, the Bears experienced something new: down 26-21, with the ball, and a chance to take the lead, late in the third quarter.

The feeling didn’t last long as Jared Goff’s poorly thrown pass was picked by Arizona’s Jonathan McKnight deep in Cal territory.  McKnight’s pick set up the Wildcats for the winning score, B.J. Denker’s 14-yard touchdown run four plays later.   But afterwards, both teams acknowledged that they had been in a hotly-contested fight.

“The fact that we played better today against a good team shows them that we are certainly making progress and heading in the right direction,” Coach Sonny Dykes said.  “They’ll take something from that.  But our goal is to win the ballgame, regardless of who we play.”

“I anticipated some adversity,” Arizona Coach Rich Rodriguez said.  “When you got a team that can throw it as well as they do and they can throw it well and have some explosive receivers, you know you’ve got a chance.”

The Bears lost their seventh consecutive game, but fell by fewer than 14 points for the first time in 2013.   Is it a victory for a school with the recent history and NFL impact that Cal has had to not get blown out?  Yeah, when this season’s team features inexperience at nearly every significant position, a new coaching staff installing a high-risk system, critical injuries and defections, it is.

Goff threw for 289 yards and four touchdowns, but saw two passes picked—both in the second half. And in the critical category for Dykes’ hyper attack, the Bears ran just 82 plays.  What’s supposed to happen under Dykes’ Air Raid didn’t on Saturday: the Bears failed to seize momentum by missing on 12 third-down conversion opportunities and fell well below the preferred 100 plus plays and an edge in time of possession.

The game was basically lost in hefty chunks of the first two quarters where Cal failed to expand on a 7-0 lead built in the first five minutes.  Instead, Ka’Deem Carey—who finished with 152 yards on 32 carries—and B.J. Denker ran the Wildcats to 19 consecutive points and a five-point halftime lead.

According to Rodriguez, in an attempt to stop Carey, the Bears loaded up inside aided by their superiorly-sized defensive tackles.  But Arizona adjusted, running Carey to the boundaries where he picked up some healthy gains.   Once Carey was established, Denker found room inside when he need to scramble, and the two-pronged attack exposed Cal’s glaring lack of quickness in their back seven once again.

Denker’s third rushing touchdown came on the read option, and given Cal’s depleted numbers on defense, the strategy of running right at the Bears seemed unfair and left Cal grasping throughout.   Arizona rolled up 448 yards in total offense, but on a stat sheet with a lot of symmetry, Arizona’s ability to run and run often was the only difference.   The Wildcats had 51 rush attempts, nearly doubling Cal’s 26, and that allowed Arizona’s engine to churn slightly smoother than Cal’s.

“Had we turned the ball over we would have lost,” Rodriguez admitted.  “We’ve got some good players but we’re not going to overwhelm anybody.  We’re just not there right now.”

Where the Wildcats are is in the thick of Pac-12 South’s race to the conference’s championship game.  Arizona won for the second straight week on the road and they get UCLA back in Tucson next Saturday with a chance to improve to 7-2 and inject their team into the Rose Bowl conversation.

The Cats were recently in Cal’s shoes, trying to rebuild in an increasingly challenging BCS conference with little or no positive reinforcement on a weekly basis.  In fact, Arizona dropped 13 of their next 15 games in a dismal stretch spanning 2010 and 2011.  But Rodriguez has won some recruiting battles over the last couple of seasons, and the Wildcats’ fortunes have switched.

On Saturday, freshman Scooby Wright dumped Darren Ervin in the end zone for a safety that gave Arizona its’ first lead, 9-7.  Fellow freshman Samajie Grant made nine catches—all in the first half—to help the Wildcats grab control..

Cal’s got loads of talent in their freshman and sophomore classes as well, and on Saturday, Kenny Lawler Jr. turned the most heads.  Lawler caught three touchdowns and his leaping one-handed grab that drew Cal closer in the third quarter was a highlight reel grab.

The Bears get a visit from USC next Saturday at Memorial Stadium.