Bear Trap: Cal upsets Stanford at the Pac-12 Tournament again, wins 76-58

By Morris Phillips

At some point during Cal’s unprecedented 10-day break bridging the regular season and the Pac-12 Tournament, some teaching went on.

Coach Mark Fox, mindful of his team’s glaring defensive deficiencies, got demanding. Fox taught, the players learned, physicality was introduced, and at some point knowledge turned to belief for the conference’s lowest-seeded team.

“A teacher is only a good teacher if the students learn,” Fox said. “And obviously I did a terrible job of teaching our defense this year because it’s been awful. Tonight is what it should look like all the time.”

On Wednesday night in Las Vegas, Stanford found out first hand what had been learned in Berkeley. In a stunning reversal, Cal shut down the Cardinal on the interior, and answered two, lopsided losses to their rival with a wire-to-wire 76-58 upset win.

The 11th-seeded Bears (their lowest seeding ever in the Pac-12 Tournament) controlled the glass, didn’t get burned in the paint, then coupled that with a patient, and efficient offensive showing that was easily their best in a disjointed season that saw them lose 19 games. After Stanford ate Cal alive in the paint to the tune of 84 points combined in the two regular season meetings, the Bears muscled up and pushed back.

“We didn’t rebound it very well the early part of February, and slowly our rebound numbers have been improving,” Fox said of Cal’s 31-22 edge on the glass. “They bought into it, and I thought it carried over to the game today. We played very physical on the backboards today.”

Cal scored the game’s first six points and never looked back. They lead by as many as nine in the first half, and by six at the break. With Stanford showing some resolve, the Cardinal creeped to within one at 52-51 with 6:08 remaining. After Cal’s Joel Brown inexplicably missed a layup, Stanford gained possession looking for their first lead. But Matt Bradley blocked Lukas Kisunas’ shot and Ryan Betley freed himself for a 3-pointer at the other end. That started Cal’s 24-7 finishing run that saw them win going away.

“He’s known for doing that,” Andre Kelly said of Bradley’s rejection at the rim. “He’s an ultra competitor. He does that in practice all the time so it’s nothing special to me, but for you guys to see it is something cool.”

Bradley didn’t start in a move Fox declined to discuss. But the team’s leading scorer entered early and went on to lead Cal with 19 points, six assists and six rebounds. Kelly contributed 12 points, nine rebounds and Betley hit some timely daggers in a 13-point performance he squeezed into 16 minutes of floor time.

Jaden Delaire led the sixth-seeded Cardinal with 14 points, and Michael O’Connell and Oscar da Silva each had 12. Da Silva, the two-time, first team All Pac-12 performer suffered a leg injury previously and missed eight of his 12 shots. Ziaire Williams was unavailable due to a family matter in Los Angeles which means the Stanford freshman who is a presumed NBA lottery pick this summer may never face Cal as a collegian. Williams missed all three games this season between the schools.

This was only the fifth time the two Bay Area rivals have met in 23 conference tournaments, and the odds of them meeting in consecutive tournaments are less than 3 percent. Couple that with Cal’s win and last year’s 63-51 upset of Stanford, and the Bears truly grabbed a piece of rivalry history with the double play.

The Bears advance to a quarterfinal meeting with third-seeded Colorado on Thursday at 8pm.

Paloose Pounding: Cal blown out by WSU, 82-51, stays in last place in the Pac-12

By Morris Phillips

The uncertainty of which players would be available for Cal’s visit to Washington State was quickly replaced by the certainty of the outcome, an 82-51 runaway victory for the host Cougars.

Noah Williams led WSU with 32 points in the absence of Isaac Bonton, the Cougars leading scorer who was a gametime decision but sat out his second consecutive game with an ankle injury. Williams, the team’s second leading scorer, added nine rebounds and seven assists in just 31 minutes of floor time.

Cal trailed 21-10 with 9:38 remaining before halftime and never recovered. The Bears shot 36 percent from the field, and trailed 48-26 at halftime. The 31-point loss marked their biggest margin of defeat this season, one game after they registered their biggest win, an upset at home of NCAA Tournament hopeful Colorado.

Matt Bradley–in an unexpected lineup change–came off the bench and led Cal in scoring with 16 points. Ryan Betley replaced Bradley in the starting lineup but scored just six points in 28 minutes, missing five of his seven 3-point attempts. Andre Kelly had 10 points, five rebounds.

The Bears afforded WSU way to many scoring opportunities by being outrebounded 39-26, and committing 11 turnovers to the Cougars seven.

Not that Washington State (13-10, 6-10) needed any additional help from Cal. WSU shot 52 percent for the game, making 12 threes in the process as Cal’s defense, especially on the perimeter, was severely lacking.

WSU coach Kyle Smith spoke in the leadup to the game about Cal’s recent competitiveness, as well as a rough stretch for his Cougars, which has them playing five games in nine days. But in the end, none of Smith’s fears were realized.

Cal (3-14, 8-16) continues its northwest road swing on Saturday in Seattle against Washington, which lost to Cal earlier this season in Berkeley, and were beaten soundly by Stanford on Thursday night.

Cal’s upset bid fails in the final minutes of a 61-57 loss to No. 24 UCLA

By Morris Phillips

The strategy in the final minutes of a close contest for the trailing team is universal: foul, stop the clock, put your opponent on the foul line, hope for misses and lengthen the game.

But what if the referees are swallowing their whistles and letting both teams play? And your opponent is No. 24 UCLA who routinely defends without fouling?

Well, that strategy won’t work as Cal found out Thursday night at Haas Pavilion when their upset bid fell short in a 61-57 loss to the Bruins.

Jules Bernard’s 3-pointer with 2:08 remaining proved to be the pivotal basket, and gave UCLA a 59-55 lead in a game that was back and forth throughout the second half. Misses by Jarred Hyder on Cal’s ensuing two possessions brought Cal no closer. Finally, Hyder scored with 13 seconds remaining, but the Bears had to foul three times to regain possession. With just eight seconds remaining–and Cal again trailing by four after Johnny Juzang made two free throws–UCLA used one of their fouls to give to prevent a Cal 3-point attempt.

A pair of meaningless shots in the final seconds fell short for Cal, quietly ending their bid to upset the Bruins, who are now 8-0 and alone in first place in the Pac-12.

“We got the lead there late, tried to get our best defensive lineup in, and we kept them off the foul line,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “It was an advantage down the stretch. We knew we had fouls to give with the way we were trying to play defense, so that helped us.”

“We just couldn’t get to the foul line in the second half,” said Cal coach Mark Fox, who saw his team limited to 21 points after halftime after leading 36-32 at the break.

UCLA has now committed fewer fouls than all 14 of their opponents. They committed just 11 fouls in the game and only 20 were whistled prior to the furious final seconds. While Cal slowed the pace, the referees sped the game along. In a game that was completed in well under two hours, the undermanned Bears got few chances to catch their breath.

Grant Anticevich led Cal (7-9, 2-7) with 21 points and perfect 5 for 5 shooting from distance. While UCLA stopped the Bears near the basket, they allowed Cal 10 made threes, seven of those in the first half. That alone kept the Bears in a game in which they were outrebounded 38-23 and wilted as the game progressed.

Cal’s defensive effort against the ranked Bruins was commendable, but even Fox admitted his team controlled tempo better than they defended, and leaving Bernard open for his late three was their biggest mistake.

“To beat a high-level opponent, you have to play a little more mistake-free than we did today,” Fox admitted.

Matt Bradley tested his injured ankle in pre-game warm-ups but was ruled out, missing his fifth straight game. That again left Cal scrambling for offense from other sources that couldn’t deliver. Fox pointed out that Bradley’s absence has affected guard Ryan Betley, who missed his first seven shots and finished 1 for 8 in 33 minutes of floor time.

“Were asking too much of Ryan, and I think he’s worn down,” Fox said.

The Bears are scheduled to host USC on Saturday but COVID issues within the Trojans program has put the game in question. The USC-Stanford game on Thursday was canceled.

Bears Breakthrough: Cal wins a Pac-12 clash, 84-78 over Washington

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Needing a Pac-12 victory in the worst way, the Bears didn’t squander the opportunity.

In a matchup of the conference’s bottom dwellers, the Bears looked like contenders in shooting their way past Washington, 84-78 at Haas Pavilion.

The Bears finished the game on a 9-3 run after it was tied at 75 a piece with 2:18 remaining. Throughout the Bears relied on their offense, shooting 55 percent from the floor while burying 11 3-pointers.

“Offensively we got the ball in the paint when we needed to in the first half,” coach Mark Fox said. “We made a bunch of threes in the second, and it ends up being a real good win.”

“We couldn’t get stops,” Huskies coach Mike Hopkins said. “We didn’t execute down the stretch what we wanted to do.”

The Huskies were picked ninth in the Pac-12 preseason poll, the Bears tenth. But UW’s top returner Nahziah Carter was suspended due to sexual impropriety allegations and subsequently withdrew from school. Cal has dealt with injuries, most significantly with leading scorer Matt Bradley missing his fourth game on Saturday. Both teams came in 0-5 in conference play with seven of the 10 combined losses by double digits.

With the speculation that one of the two teams could go winless in conference growing, both teams played with renewed vigor. But Cal’s offense lasted longer while the Huskies suffered too many lapses defensively.

“The three-point shot for certain players we allowed to happen,” Hopkins said. “And that’s the result you get when you don’t execute what you’re supposed to execute.”

While Andre Kelly was flawless in the paint, leading Cal with 22 points, the graduate connection of Ryan Betley and Makale Foreman took advantage from distance with eight combined made threes.

With that trio cooking from the opening tip, the Bears built an eight-point halftime lead that they expanded to 13 (45-32) with 18:01 remaining. While the Huskies may have little continuity and diminished confidence at this point, they dug deep and battled Cal for the remainder of the second half only to come up short.

Erik Stevenson scored 15 of his team-high 27 after the break with a huge assist from Jamal Bey, who had 18 with 11 of those after halftime. With those two leading the way, the Huskies–with some of the worst shooting numbers among any of the Power 5 schools–belied their statistics by shooting 52 percent from the floor.

But in the final 2:18 Cal took control. Joel Brown hit a 3-pointer to break the 75-75 tie, then on the next possession Brown cruised in for a layup. Between the two buckets by Brown, Betley came up with a huge blocked shot in the paint on UW’s Quade Green with Brown then grabbing the rebound. Leading 80-75, the Bears closed the door.

On tap next the Bears’ ski trip has them at Colorado on Wednesday and Utah on Saturday.

Cal gets past Seattle U. in the game’s final minutes, 70-65

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Handpicked opponents with balky jump shots and limited confidence delivered to your main gym entrance at a moment’s notice?

Well, this isn’t Grubhub or Uber Eats, the Golden Bears can testify to that.

Instead of skating through the promenade entrance of the Conte Forum on the Boston College campus in near freezing temperatures, the Cal Bears heeded the words of their local medical experts, and spent Tuesday afternoon close to home at Haas Pavilion. After canceling with BC, the Redhawks from Seattle agreed to be Cal’s opponent in a hastily arranged matchup.

However, the Redhawks didn’t agree to be pliable or vulnerable–anything but.

Coach Jim Hayford saw his Redhawks lead for the game’s first 33 minutes only to go scoreless for five of the final six minutes allowing Joel Brown and the Bears to seize control in a 70-65 win.

“It came right down to the last four minutes and you have to credit Joel Brown,” Hayford said. “His two threes were clutch and  at the end of the shot clock after we played really good defense. He made the two winning plays that really were the difference in this game.”

The Bears again played without leading scorers Matt Bradley and Grant Anticevich. That meant others had to step up and Brown, Kuany Kuany along with Ryan Betley answered the call.

Betley led the Bears with 17 points, but Kuany’s contribution (11 points tying his career best) was a welcome surprise as was Brown’s star turn down the stretch.

With the shot clock almost expired, Brown hit a 3-pointer to put Cal up 60-59 with 3:31 remaining. Then after both teams fell into neutral offensively for several possessions, Brown struck again with a three that put Cal up 63-59 with 2:01 remaining.

“Those were huge baskets for us, no question about it,” coach Mark Fox said of Brown.

Brown’s baskets were part of a 10-0 run that saw the Bears go from down two to up eight with 31 seconds to go.

In the closing run, reliable Redhawks Riley Grigsby (20 points, son of former Cal standout Alfred Grigsby), Emeka Udenyi (prepped at De La Salle Concord) and Darrion Trammell (St. Ignatius San Francisco) missed big shots, ending what had been an impressive afternoon for the trio.

The Bears (5-4, 0-2) are over .500 for the first time in over a year. They next see action on New Years Eve at Oregon in a matchup with the conference favorite Ducks.

Cal offense sharp despite absence of top two scorers, rout Northridge 87-56

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–A late announcement reveals the Cal Bears to be without their top two offensive threats.

In 2020, that’s par for the course. You must adjust.

With Matt Bradley dealing with a knee injury, and Grant Anticevich out after appendectomy surgery, the offensively-challenged Bears had few places to turn. Fortunately, two of those places were to graduate transfers Ryan Betley and Makale Foreman.

Foreman and Betley–arguably more impressive and consistent than Anticevich and Bradley thus far–answered the call. The duo combined for 42 points, making nine 3-pointers, in what was ironically Cal’s best offensive performance to date, an 87-56 rout of Cal State Northridge.

“I thought we did a lot of things that were really sound, and allowed us to build a lead, play from in front and get some young guys some experience,” coach Mark Fox said.

The Bears shot 60 percent from the field and registered their most convincing win since beating Oregon State in February 2017. Coming in, the Bears were shooting just 43 percent from the floor in averaging 65 points per game.

Joel Brown had his best game of the season with 10 points, shooting a perfect 5 for 5 from the field. Jarret Hyder, the Fresno State transfer, made his Cal debut with six points in 18 minutes off the bench. Lars Thiemann and Andre Kelly were Cal’s replacement starters and both registered exemplary games.

Not surprisingly, the Matadors, who agreed to play Cal earlier this week, weren’t pleased with their play. Besides their far too accomodating defense, they shot 35 percent and committed 17 turnovers.

“We’re a lot better and I believe we can be better,” coach Mark Gottfried said. “We turned the ball over a lot, we took bad shots, our shot selection was poor, I thought defensively we had a hard time containing the dribble and they blew right by us a number of times.”

TJ Starks, the Matadors leading scorer, was held to 13 points, and Atin Wright added 10.

Cal (4-4, 0-2) concludes its fluidly constructed non-conference schedule on Tuesday with a visit from Seattle U. Redhawks at 2pm.