Bad Break: Cal falters after halftime, Washington surges to 71-52 win

By Morris Phillips

The Washington Huskies are the most recognizable thing the Pac-12 has to offer these days. Deep, athletic and experienced, UW currently projects to be a 10-seed were the NCAA tournament to commence next week.

UW is the only conference team to have a tournament profile at this point. Arizona, Oregon and Arizona State are seeking what Washington possesses.

UW’s description lies at the opposite end of the spectrum from where the Cal Bears reside. At 0-5 in conference play beginning Saturday, the Bears appeared to be the most downtrodden member of a conference collectively having a down year unlike any they’ve experienced in the last 20 seasons.

Given that juxtaposition, it no surprise that the Bears wilted quickly when push came to shove at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. After battling the first-place Huskies on even terms for 20 minutes, Cal’s offense deteriorated after halftime in a 71-52 defeat.

The Huskies staged a late rally to lead 29-28 at the break. That surge came after they missed 13 of the first 14 shots to start the game. But once UW started cooking, they didn’t cool, starting the second half on an 18-7 run that turned the contest into a rout.

The Bears shot just 23 percent after halftime, and a season-worst 31 percent for the game. They missed 14 of their 15 three attempts and gathered just eight assists. In rapid succession, the Bears saw their transition opportunities dwindle, their shooting plummet, and then the Huskies heated up. Washington went from missing shots early to canning 10 threes in the game.

“We started the game out getting stops and getting out in transition and I was happy to see that, but we really struggled against their half-court zone,” said coach Wyking Jones.

Roman Davis made his first start as a collegian. Teammate Andre Kelly came off the bench and led the Bears with 14 points in 18 minutes. Freshman Matt Bradley also started but couldn’t make a shot. He missed all ten that he attempted.

The Bears have dropped 13 consecutive Pac-12 conference games dating to February. They’ve also lost their last twelve Pac-12 road contests. They dropped seven straight overall, and in the last four they’ve failed to gain a lead in the second half at any point.

It’s not pretty. But if the Bears allow it, their losing ways could continue.

The Bears return to Haas Pavilion on Thursday night to face Colorado. Game time set for 8:00 pm PT.

Rousted by Redhawks: Cal closes non-conference schedule with home loss to Seattle, 82-73

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, Calif. — Saturday was not the Pac-12’s finest hour, and the Cal Bears’ performance was partly responsible for what ranks among the darkest days for the Conference of Champions in men’s basketball.

The Bears (5-7) fell behind by as many as 18 points in the first half, only to rally, but ultimately lose to Seattle, 82-73 at Haas Pavilion. The loss concluded Cal’s non-conference schedule without providing much belief that they can right the ship with Pac-12 play next up beginning Thursday at UCLA.

Coach Wyking Jones surely didn’t get any assurances from his team that they’ll be engaged come Thursday, not after they led 2-0 Saturday, only to fall behind 21-4 with 12:11 remaining before halftime.

“I don’t know why, but I have to do a better job of making sure that we’re ready to play,” Jones conceded. “I could see it in shootaround. The energy level wasn’t there for whatever reason, but we can’t dig ourselves a hole. Typically we start games well, but we weren’t ready to play today. We fought back, and had some energy and spurts, but you can’t dig yourself an 18-point hole and expect to win.”

The Bears got hurt in the paint, primarily by Myles Carter who post a career-best 26 points and 13 rebounds to lead Seattle. Seattle’s leading scorer Morgan Means added 24, which included a school-record 16 for 16 performance from the free throw line, eight of those in the final two minutes of the ballgame.

Matej Kavas, Seattle’s second leading scorer who has 36 3-pointers this season, missed the game with ankle injury suffered in the team’s most recent practice. But even that setback seemed to bolster the Redhawks as they intensified their attack inside where they enjoyed a 38-30 edge on the glass and scored 19 second chance points.

“We showed a lot of grit and hung in there for all 40 minutes,” said Seattle coach Jim Hayworth. “Morgan did a great job of leading and was spectacular from the free-throw line. And (Cal) had no answer for Myles who had a great game.”

The Bears were led by point guard Paris Austin with 20 points, 17 of those after halftime. Darius McNeill added 19, and Justice Sueing added 15.

Cal was one of five Pac-12 schools to lose non-conference games on Saturday, including the league’s only ranked team, No. 17 Arizona State which fell at home to Princeton, 67-66. UCLA was shocked by Liberty, losing 73-58 at Pauley Pavilion, a loss that Steve Alford said was the most disappointing in his 28 years of coaching.

Utah lost at home to No. 5 Nevada, and Washington State lost at home to Santa Clara. The league’s 38-36 record in December is the worst won-loss record of any major conference (including the Big East) in this month in the last 20 years, a fact revealed on ESPN.com’s front page, much to the Pac-12’s dismay.

 

Holiday Heart-Stopper: Austin’s game-winner carries Bears past Cal Poly, 67-66

By Morris Phillips

When you win, everybody feels great.

But when it requires a last-second, game-winner to avoid a distasteful measure of embarrassment, almost nobody feels great immediately, and some don’t feel settled for as many as 48 hours.

Paris Austin’s free-throw line jump shot with three seconds remaining delivered the first feeling without erasing the second, in the Cal Bears’ 67-66 win over Cal Poly.

“We are a really good shooting team and shots didn’t fall tonight,” coach Wyking Jones said. “I am very happy with my team, my young team finding a way to get a win. At the end of the day, that’s what’s most important. I see them growing, I don’t know if we win that game last year. Happy that Paris hit the shot, it gives him a lot of confidence. He’s been doing everything that we’ve asked of him.”

The Mustangs of San Luis Obispo and the Big West had done little of note in eight games coming in, but they mustered their biggest effort to date at Haas Pavilion on Saturday night.

After seeing Cal wipe out a second-half deficit with a 10-0 run, the Mustangs hitched their fortunes to Donovan Fields, who scored 26 points and put Cal Poly up 66-65 with 16 seconds remaining.

At that point, the Bears were experiencing a star-crossed, second half in which they shot 61 percent from the field, but saw their 57-52 lead wiped out by a Cal Poly 7-0 run that concluded with 3:22 remaining and the Mustangs up 62-60.

But somehow Cal would survive by subsisting on two made baskets over the final five minutes of the game, both from Austin in the final minute. Not the most satisfying way to beat an opponent picked seventh (of nine) in the Big West, but that conclusion played smaller once Austin confidently delivered the conclusion.

“I crossed (Crowe) over, he bit on the move and I pulled up and made the shot,” Austin said. “It felt good. I knew right away.”

The small guys, Austin and Fields, provided the game’s most focused play, as the Oakland native scored all 10 of his points after halftime. Fields, Cal Poly’s 5’10” point guard, led all scorers with 19 of his 26 points after the break.

Connor Vanover again started at center for the Bears, and scored seven points in the game’s initial minutes. But the seven-footer wouldn’t score again, and then departed early in the second half with a bloody nose and dizziness suffered in a battle for a loose ball.

Grant Anticevich, the effective frontcourt reserve in the win over San Diego State, missed both of his shot attempts in 18 minutes of floor time. Justice Sueing (15), Darius McNeill (10) and Matt Bradley (11) joined Austin in Cal’s balanced scoring.

The Bears travel to Fresno State on Wednesday to face the Bulldogs of the Mountain West. Game time at 7:00 pm PT.

Wrong Exit: St. Mary’s too much for Cal in neighborhood clash, beat the Bears 83-71

By Morris Phillips

MORAGA — St. Mary’s first four-game losing streak since February 2007 essentially ended when the Cal Bears’ charter bus left Berkeley on Saturday and took a full hour to cover the 14 miles between the campuses.

That’s too long to travel, and if the Caldecott Tunnel could speak, the tunnel would confirm that fact. Instead of a timely arrival, the Bears experienced a hasty one, and bad things continued after the opening tip at McKeon Pavilion.

Malik Fitts scored 19 points–one of four St. Mary’s double-digit scorers–in the Gaels’ comfortable 83-71 win over Cal. St. Mary’s shot 55 percent before halftime, and led by 15 at the break.

Both rebuilding programs entered the clash needing a victory with the Gaels’ slide their first in more than a decade. The Bears beat Santa Clara on Monday, but dropped three of four prior to that. But it was apparent early on, Cal’s defense wasn’t going to be good enough to break into the win column.

Tanner Krebs’ 3-pointer with 8:57 remaining increased St. Mary’s lead to 28-18.

“We weren’t communicating enough on defense,” Cal’s Justice Sueing said. “That’s something we have to work on the next couple of days.”

“They came in with a game plan that they’re gonna use their secondary scorers to beat us, and they did a very good job of that,” coach Wyking Jones said.

Initially, Cal struggled to limit the Gaels’ dribble penetration. But that issue compounded when the St. Mary’s 3-point shooters started to get looks. The end result wasn’t pretty: the Gaels shot 60 percent from the field, canned 13 threes, and briefly led by 25 points in the second half.

The 60 percent shooting by their opponent was easily Cal’s worst showing of the season to date.

The West Coast Conference’s leading scorer, Jordan Ford, finished with 16 points and seven assists, off his average of more than 23 points a game. Dan Fotu added 16, and Krebs 11.

Justice Sueing paced the Bears with 16 points. Matt Bradley had 15, and Paris Austin 12. The Bears again struggled with ball movement and offensive cohesion with their absurdly low assist total of six jumping off the stat sheet.

The Bears host the USF Dons on Wednesday night, their third consecutive neighborhood clash, at 8:00 pm.