Photo credit: @CalMBBall
By: Michael Duca
BERKELEY, Calif. — The second time was not the charm.
Cal opened its Pac-12 season against a UCLA team in disarray, with Interim Coach Murry Bartow coaching his first game after a mid-season change. The Bruins broke form and blew out Cal at Pauley. Wednesday night, the Bears got their shot at the Bruins at home, immediately after what should have been a soul-crushing loss to Utah Sunday afternoon.
It was not meant to be.
One of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the nation (62%), the UCLA Bruins rode 9-of-10 shooting from the charity stripe to a 75-67 overtime victory at Haas Pavilion. Led by Kris Wilkes 27 points, the Bruins, who did not lead until 11:04 remained in regulation, caught fire late from behind the arc to steal a sloppy game from Cal, which is still seeking its first conference win (0-12, 5-18). UCLA started the game shooting 3-of-16 from behind the arc, but finished hitting 7 of their final 16 treys, including back-to-back shots from the left corner in a 30-second span in the final 90 seconds of regulation. Those three-balls pulled the Bruins from a 59-55 hole inside 2:00.
Cal, which held a nine point advantage at the half, fell to 3-3 in games with a lead at the intermission. The Bruins played a sloppy game, with 13 turnovers in the first half (and only 4 assists). Those turnovers led to a 15-4 lead in points off turns for Cal, but they just could not hold it in the second half once the Bruins started to hit from outside.
Wilkes 16 points after intermission overshadowed a nice evening for Darius McNeil, who flashed his speed time after time in racking up a team-high 18 points, including four treys, but McNeil also committed a pair of thoroughly unnecessary fouls that gave the Bruins life. The taller Bruins owned the boards, with a 50-36 edge that included 17 offensive rebounds and 13 second-chance points.
Down 9 with 14:00 left in regulation, David Singleton hit three consecutive three-balls for the Bruins to close the game to 43-42 at 12:18.
Matt Bradley had a rollercoaster night, missing his first eight shots but draining a three to send the game to overtime.
Cal’s frustration will only increase when they watch film – they have suffered mightily in conference play from poor defense, but they held UCLA (averaging 80 points/game) to under 40% shooting on the night, but could barely exceed hitting one-third of their own shots (23-of-68).
Justice Sueing had a solid game with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, adding a team-leading 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Conor Vanover is beginning to show flashes of adapting to the speed of the college game, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting, plus 6 rebounds and a pair of blocks (plus countless other shots altered), and a pair of plays where he created held balls that gave Cal possession.
It remains to be seen whether Cal will break through and avoid a winless conference season, but it is clear from watching this team that they have not given up on the season – they competed hard for 45 minutes, but just didn’t have the offense to put the game away in regulation.
Next up for Cal are the USC Trojans, Saturday afternoon at 5 pm.