By Morris Phillips
SEATTLE–Every basketball collective wants their game to sing, as if it were an operatic ballet, hoovering effortlessly three feet above the hardwood.
Cal and Coach Wyking Jones want that. Unfortunately, Pac-12 conference play is upon them, and they’re not there yet.
Thursday night in blustery Seattle, the Bears started fast, suffered a mental gaffe right before the half, surrendered the first couple of baskets after the break, and fell to Washington, 66-56 at Alaska Airlines Arena. Cal dropped its third in a row after winning at Stanford in the conference opener, scoring a season-low 56 points. While spotty offense was the headline for what ailed the Bears, it was just part of the story along with the visitors’ issues at the foul line, and the sudden disqualification of leading scorer Don Coleman with more than 12 minutes remaining.
Even Jones, succinct as they come, missed a key issue or two in giving his summary of the loss.
“We didn’t take advantage of the free throw line. We went through stretches where we couldn’t score. We wanted to start off agressive, which we did,” Jones recounted.
“Then Crisp got going, and that really ignited them.”
David Crisp, UW’s accomplished, junior point guard scored all 10 of his points in the second half, including a pair of 3-pointers 41 seconds apart as the Huskies effectively put this one away seven minutes before the final horn, given Cal’s struggles scoring the ball and Coleman’s ejection. Ironically, Crisp–from a purely personnel standpoint–represents what sets the Bears and Huskies–a pair of young teams with first-year coaches–apart: a confident ball handler that can corral youthful teammates, whose play can run the gamut from erratic to even chaotic at times, even if only for key stretches of a 40-minute ballgame.
Even with Crisp on the floor for 34 of those minutes Thursday, both teams threw the ball around carelessly. The Bears had 10 turnovers in the first half, and 18 for the game. The Huskies had nine in the first half, and a season-high 20 for the game. Knowing that the Huskies love point blank scoring opportunities, the Bears built a wall in front of the hoop early, drawing two UW charging foul calls in the game’s first three minutes, and limiting them to 41 percent shooting before the break.
“Cal missed fouls shots. Our offense in stretches wasn’t good,” said UW coach Mike Hopkins, the former, long term assistant to Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. “It reminded me of an early-season game. It didn’t feel like there was a flow.”
With Marcus Lee in foul trouble, Cal played the final seven plus minutes of the opening half with four freshman and Kingsley Okoroh on the floor. Cal’s defense alone during that stretch was good enough too keep them even on the scoreboard at the break. But a poor decision by Darius McNeill in the final seconds prevented that.
With Cal down one, McNeill attempted and missed a 3-pointer with 13 seconds remaining, and time left on the shot clock. McNeill’s decision to shoot early backfired as Washington raced down and got a three from Michael Carter with five seconds remaining. That increased Washington’s one-point lead to four at the break, and they built on it with Matisse Thybulle’s dunk and three to open the second half.
The Bears steadied briefly, as Justice Sueing provided a pair of baskets in a 10-2 run that had Cal down 35-34 with 15:23 remaining. But Coleman, picked up a technical foul due to his too verbal protest regarding his fourth foul–which took him from three fouls to disqualified in one petulant act–and Cal was cooked. Crisp’s back-to-back threes followed in an 18-5 Huskies run and the Bears never recovered.
Sueing led Cal with 27 points on 11 of 16 shooting, but the other eight Bears to play at least three minutes combined to miss 25 of their 36 shot attempts, and nine of their 15 free throws. Throughout, the Bears’ passing lacked the authority and acumen to dent a Pac-12 defense. Lee playing just 17 minutes, and Cal’s lack of bench production (Washington’s reserves outscored Cal’s 18-2) were issues as well.
“That was our main focus to let them shoot shots–because they’re very good at rebounding off their missed shots, offensive rebounding,” said UW freshman Jay Nowell, who led the Huskies in scoring with 20 points. “So we just wanted to box out every time, make sure they only got one shot.”
The Bears visit Pullman, WA on Saturday to face the equally, turnover-challenged Cougars. Washington State committed 22 turnovers on Thursday as they lost at home to Stanford, 79-70.