Bears listless in fumbling away Pac-12 contest at Utah

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Photo of Utah’s Tyler Rawsom courtesy of University of Utah Athletics

By Morris Phillips

If Saturday night’s California-Utah ballgame were contested on a gridiron, not on the hardwood, Cal would have been saddled with poor field position throughout and rarely crossed midfield.

As it was, the Bears’ offensive possessions often ended quickly with a thud while Utah’s explored the rich tapestry of sharing the basketball, more often than not concluding with a flourish at point-blank range.

Even the final margin of 34 points lent the proceedings the feel of a five touchdown-mismatch at Rice-Eccles Stadium three blocks to the west, not a blowout on the hoop court at the history-filled Hunstman Center.

Either way the Bears were sent packing, much in need of the week of preparation they’ll have prior to their rematch with Stanford next Sunday. According to head coach Wyking Jones, the Bears will need an infusion of heart as well before seeing the Cardinal.

“We had no fight tonight,” Jones admitted. “It sums it all up… we had no fight.”

The Bears started respectably, leading 8-4 after four minutes. But a 10-0 Utah run changed the tenor of the ballgame immediately. Later in the half Cal went scoreless for more than five minutes and found themselves trailing 40-21 at halftime.

Offensively, the Bears were a mess early. Six of Cal’s 11 first half turnovers came in the first nine minutes as Utah’s zone built in tenacity. In their typical style under Coach Larry Krystowiak, the Utes’ defense fueled their offense with 17 of their 40 points a direct result of Cal’s miscues.

“If we truly focus on getting stops, it’s the cliché in sports,” Krystowiak said. “Pitching wins World Series’; Defense wins Super Bowls. We’ve had a couple of weeks playing zone, the guys are buying into it. Coach Hill is doing a great job on the defensive side of the ball, and it makes the game fun. We took some charges, took care of the glass, and the offense took care of itself.

Don’t whine, it’s over at nine: Cal squeezes past Oregon State to end losing streak

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Photo courtesy of D. Ross Cameron/USA Today

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Stay together. Continue to fight. Even for first-year Cal coach Wyking Jones, repeating those rallying cry phrases carried little significance without putting one in the win column.

Finally, after more than a month, Jones’ Bears have that win.

Kingsley Okoroh registered his first career double-double and the Bears used a big, first half run to get past Oregon State, 74-70 at Haas Pavilion on Saturday night.

The Bears had dropped nine in a row, one off the school-record 10 losses established in 1962. But throughout, players and coaches remained positive and hopeful the streak could be broken.

“Our guys stayed together and believed in each other,” Jones said. “We challenged them to run their shooters off the line and we were okay with giving up two-point contested field goals. The threes add up quick so that was the main focus defensively — it was just to not give up open looks from three. We also made a ton of hustle plays.”

The Bears started slow, and trailed by as many as 10 early. But the response was immediate: Cal scored 30 of the game’s next 40 points to establish their own double-digit lead, and then led 36-28 at the half. OSU was held scoreless for more than six minutes during the run, and shot just 38 percent from the floor in the opening 20 minutes.

Unlike the previous month of Cal basketball, the Bears held it together under the adversity of a deficit on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, the Beavers unraveled, likely under the road woes they’ve endured in losing 18 straight true road contests.

“It is frustrating, but we’ve got to stay positive,” OSU coach Wayne Tinkle said. “Toughness and discipline wins on the road, and we’ve got to continue to establish that.”

Still, Oregon State applied the pressure with an 8-0 run to lead 57-56 with 6:47 remaining. But Cal’s response–Darius McNeill’s 3-pointer–was immediate, and the Bears never again trailed.

The ragged nature of the ballgame–surprisingly free of turnovers, but littered with 51 foul calls–no doubt had both coaches on edge. But Cal (8-16, 2-9) found away to exploit the situation by making 29 of 39 from the stripe, as big as a surprise as the win itself given Cal’s season-long struggles at the foul line.  In the final 3:30 with the game in the balance, the Bears sunk 11 of 14 to seal it.

“Coach yesterday made us shoot free throws for 30 minutes straight,” Okoroh recalled. “We just all sat around and shot free throws in silence, and it paid off today.”

McNeill led Cal with 16 points, Marcus Lee and Okoroh added 14, and Justice Sueing had 11. Sueing has scored in double figures in all 11 conference games, and did so Saturday despite foul trouble that limited him to six minutes in the first half.

“I’m just very happy for our guys,” Jones said. “Throughout all the losses, throughout all the tough breaks, they’ve been able to continue to fight and continue to stay together.”

Steven Thompson Jr. led OSU (11-11, 3-7) with 24 points, and Tres Tinkle added 19.

The Bears continue Pac-12 play on Wednesday at Colorado followed by a visit to Salt Lake City to face Utah.

Can’t duck this: Oregon starts fast, shoots the lights out in big win at Cal

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Photo courtesy of Al Sermeno/klcfotos.com

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY–Slow starts returned, missed shots never went away, and Cal’s losing streak grew longer on Thursday night.

Oregon was present at Haas Pavilion to benefit from each update, winning 66-53 over Cal to keep their slim hopes of post-season play alive, while the Bears fell for the ninth, consecutive time.

Not surprisingly, the artistry on both sides was dwarfed by sloppy play, highlighted by the combined 33 turnovers posted by the two teams.

Oregon coach Dana Altman didn’t necessarily like what he witnessed, but he appreciated the effort counting in the win column.

“We’ve always had a lot of trouble here,” Altman said. “It’s never been an easy place for us. So we were fortunate to get the win, but we need to play better on Saturday. We need to grow as a team and play smarter.”

The Bears were doomed by their scoreless start to the game, going more than six minutes and trailing 9-0 before Don Coleman broke the slide with his made jumper. They would trail by as many as 15 points before a late run got them within 34-26 at the half.

“We have been really good out of the gate as of late, and today I look up at the score and its 0-9 and we have to try and get back into the game,” coach Wyking Jones said. “We didn’t set a good tone coming out of the gates. I wasn’t happy about that, because I thought we had gotten past that.”

The Bears competitiveness kicked in, just not at the critical junctures. Cal outrebounded the Ducks and forced 17 turnovers, but saw all their hustle undone by missed shots. When the Bears climbed to within 53-47 with 5:36 remaining, the Ducks responded with an 8-0 run to put the game away.

Cal shot just 33 percent from the floor for the game, and missed 13 of their 17 3-point attempts. They also played stretches without post players Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh, who were both saddled with foul trouble.

“When we get the ball inside, we get moving, guys cut to the rim, and we have Marcus and King who are great passers out of the post, so when those guys were in foul trouble, we didn’t have that option,” Jones said.

Freshman Troy Brown led the Ducks with 16 points. Elijah Brown added 15, and MiKyle McIntosh had 13. The Ducks put 22 fewer shots than the Bears, but made them count, shooting 55 percent from the floor with nine made threes.

Cal got 16 points from Don Coleman, and 12 from Justice Sueing. Coleman returned from a two-game suspension for a violation of team rules.

The Bears host Oregon State on Saturday at 5pm.

 

Brawnier Bruins: UCLA tougher, stingier in 70-57 home win over Cal

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Photo courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today

By Morris Phillips

Almost simultaneously on Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion, the Cal Bears were surprising with their growth, while their inexperience was killing them.

In jumping to a 27-14 lead, Cal patiently ran its offense while limiting the Bruins to one shot at the other end. But with the Bears unable to keep UCLA out of the paint, and unable to defend without fouling, things unraveled quickly.

An 18-0 run wiped out Cal’s advantage and gave UCLA the lead at halftime. The Bruins then weathered some anxious moments as the Bears took their final (and only lead of the second half) with 11:58 remaining.

But at that point, the Bruins toughened, while Cal (7-10, 1-7) disintegrated with one missed shot after another.

Our defense really came round today,” UCLA’s Aaron Holiday said. “It just shows how hard we fought and well we can play when we’re playing defense like that.”

Defensive toughness wasn’t really UCLA’s issue after they shot the lights out, scoring 107 points on 58 percent shooting in Berkeley on January 6. But they made it their mandate after a three-game losing streak robbed them of their swagger. Losing starting center Thomas Welsh to a knee sprain midway through the first half didn’t figure to enhance the Bruins’ defensive intensity.

The Bears were without leading scorer Don Coleman, who remained in Berkeley due to a violation of team rules. His suspension will last indefinitely. When starting center Marcus Lee picked up two, first half fouls, the Bruins took advantage of Cal’s fractured defense with shot after shot in the painted area.

During that stretch, the Bears’ offense wasn’t any better, making just one basket over the final 9:20 of the half even with Welsh sitting.

“I thought the ball movement was great until Marcus (Lee) went out of the game,” coach Wyking Jones said. “When he goes out of the game, it makes it more difficult for us.”

With Lee on the floor, Justice Sueing thrived. The freshman forward had 10 of Cal’s first 27 points as they established a double-digit lead. Then with Cal down in the second half, Sueing came up with eight consecutive points to get Cal their last lead. Sueing finished with a game-high 24 points.

UCLA (14-7, 5-4) took control for good starting with Jaylen Hands steal and break away dunk that put the Bruins up 58 -51 with 5:43 remaining. After Juhwan Harris-Dyson was fouled but missed a free throw on Cal’s ensuing possession, Holiday canned a three. The Bears never got closer than eight points after that.

Cal shot just 35 percent from the floor, and missed 7 of their 16 free throw attempts. UCLA benefitted from all the Bears fouling by making 25 of 32 from the stripe.  Cal’s 19 offensive rebounds? Indicative of their effort, but telling of their acumen.

“We just have to make shots,” Jones said.

Cal will attempt to avoid a 1-8 start to conference play at USC on Sunday. The Trojans sit alone in second place at 7-2 after their narrow win over Stanford on Wednesday at the Galen Center.

Not so bad: California’s offense perks up in competitive 81-73 loss to No. 16 Arizona State

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Photo courtesy of Al Sermeno/KLC Fotos

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Somehow, a sixth consecutive loss for the Cal Bears wasn’t a complete downer.

This time their shots fell, runs were made and the derisive cheers that had become commonplace throughout Haas Pavilion, ceased. The Bears fought through a 16-point first half deficit, getting within five points of No. 16 Arizona State with six minutes remaining, before falling 81-73.

“I was happy with the guys’ effort tonight on both ends,” coach Wyking Jones said. “I felt like we came out of the gates with a lot of energy defensively. Offensively I thought the guys did a better job sharing the ball, making the extra pass, moving without the ball and just had a much better flow.”

While the Bears appeared energized, the sharp shooting Sun Devils were focused on not falling completely out of the national rankings just weeks after they stood as the nation’s only, remaining undefeated team at 12-0. After falling short at Stanford on Wednesday, ASU got back to doing what they do best: making big shots from everywhere under the frequent pressure of an expiring shot clock.

Six different Sun Devils had at least one made 3-pointer, including Kodi Justice, who restored ASU’s double-digit lead with a turnaround, circus-like three over the outstretched arms of Juhwan Harris-Dyson with 12:59 remaining. The Bears would continue to fight, getting as close as down 62-58 with 7:28 remaining, but seemingly every Cal run, had an ASU three as an answer.

Eight of ASU’s 10 made threes came after halftime as Cal’s scrambling defense eventually left someone an open look. The Sun Devils’ bench was plenty productive as well with 25 points in the first half, and 41 for the game.

“You can’t be a Top 25 team if you don’t have a bench,” Jones said of ASU’s largesse from their reserves. “It’s not possible.”

“We just have to sustain this level now and try to be consistent about getting that type of production,” said ASU coach Bobby Hurley of his team’s production off the bench. “It may not be significant in terms of point total, but just getting solid, quality play. We’ve been in a lot of dogfights. We’ve had a lot of road games to start league play and we’ve been very competitive. I have no doubt that when we get home we’ll try to get things going for next week.”

Marcus Lee led Cal with a season-best 23 points on 10 of 13 shooting. But in a game where the Bears had few, statistical warts, free throwing stood out. Lee missed seven of his 10 attempts, and the Bears as a whole were just 12 of 22 from the stripe.

Tra Holder and Remy Martin led ASU in scoring, each with 13 points.

Cal travels to Southern California next week for rematches with the Bruins and Trojans, teams they saw–and lost to–just three weeks ago in Berkeley.

Haas is not a Home: Visiting No. 14 Arizona runs away from Cal in the second half for eventual 79-58 win

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Photo courtesy of Al Sermeno/KLC Fotos

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Make no mistake: Arizona is heating up. After a puzzling three-game losing streak in November, the Cats went undefeated in December and they’ve only lost once so far in January.

And the Cal Bears? They’ve–at the least–stopped the slow starts. Now they’ve got work to do on the scoring droughts and the uncompetitive finishes.

On Wednesday at Haas Pavilion, Arizona stayed hot, and Cal was saddled with another essential, remedial homework assignment, as the Wildcats cruised to a 79-58 victory.

The Bears weathered the impending storm early, leading 16-15 with 10:12 remaining in the half. But their anxiousness surfaced, their shot selection deteriorated and Arizona ran away, leading by 10 at halftime and increasing their lead from there.

“Marcus takes a jump shot and Don takes an ill-advised shot,” coach Wyking Jones said. “We could have had better shots, and that lead to them going up by 10 at the half.”

Starting the second half, the Bears couldn’t summon a rally. Playing without starting guard Rawle Atkins, Arizona (15-4, 5-1) coughed the ball up early, but they eventually started making shots.

“Cal’s zone is very extended,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “You watch it on film, I think it’s one of those defenses sometimes players have to get into a rhythm and understand and get a sense of how to move the ball against it. … Once we got through that stretch, no doubt turnovers plagued us throughout but we also had some good moments.”

Individually, the Bears had their hands full with 7’0″ Deandre Ayton. The freshman phenom is freakish in his ability to dominate in the paint, but also step away and make jump shots. Ayton led the Cats with 20 points, 11 rebounds, but his 9 for 11 shooting was merely the headliner for the Cats’ 62 percent shooting for the game that masked any other deficiencies they displayed on the stat sheet.

With Cal’s zone defense confounding Arizona only for the opening minutes of the game when they forced six turnovers, the Bears needed to capitalize with some offense. But a 1-for-10 shooting drought followed their final lead at 16-15 and their shooting didn’t get any better after halftime.

Justice Sueing led Cal with 19 points, but missed all six of his 3-point attempts. Don Coleman and Darius McNeill combined to scored 14 points, but they missed 14 of their 18 shot attempts.

Marcus Lee didn’t succumb to foul trouble and played 31 minutes, but couldn’t impact the scoresheet with only four points and two rebounds. Kingsley Okoroh scored 10 points but struggled to contain Arizona’s Dusan Ristic when the two were matched up in the paint, and Ayton when he stepped outside.

After five, consecutive losses, and at least one double-digit deficit in all six of their Pac-12 contests, the Bears are searching for at least one, confident player. Right now, it’s not apparent that they have one.

“We can’t get our backs up against the wall,” Sueing said. “We have to continue to move forward and keep pushing because we know how good we can be. We haven’t shown it thus far but we have to keep pushing so we can catch that break soon.”

Cal (7-12, 1-5) returns to the hardwood on Saturday night to face Arizona State at 730pm.

 

 

Lopsided second half says it all as Cal drops its fourth straight to Washington State in 78-53 loss

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Photo courtesy of Al Sermon/klcfotos.com

By Morris Phillips

The second half of Saturday’s California-Washington State game couldn’t have provided a greater contrast.

Washington State’s high volume turnover factory closed early, the Cougars shared the basketball beautifully, struggling Robert Franks caught on fire, and the smallish home crowd in Pullman sounded like a crowd.

At the same time, Cal wilted, displaying competitiveness akin to an off-season workout. But it wasn’t: the meeting of the two teams anchored to the bottom of the Pac-12 standings was instead was a critical moment, the Bears occasion to right their ship after three lopsided defeats. In the 20 minutes after the half, the Bears appeared almost disinterested.

Given the contrast, Coach Wyking Jones admitted he was bewildered.

“I’m just wondering which team is going to show up,” Jones said of his Bears. “There’s a team that battles and competes and executes and follows the game plan, and there’s the team that looks like this.”

After trailing 30-25 at halftime, Cal simply let this one get away. The Cougars outscored Cal by 20 in the second half and they registered an easy 78-53 win, WSU’s first in conference play after starting 0-4.

Meanwhile, Cal’s dropped four straight, all by double-digits, erasing any momentum built in their stirring comeback win at Stanford in the Pac-12 opener. The Bears scored just 53 points while totaling just six assists, both season lows.

Franks hit seven of his school-record 10 3-pointers in the second half, including three in less than 90 seconds as WSU increased their lead to 48-36 with 14:15 remaining. In all, the junior forward put up 25 of his career-best 34 points after halftime, capped off by a team statistician-mandated capper with 43 seconds remaining to set the record.

Franks’ breakout came after his self-admitted poor game against Stanford. That gave Jones another reason to be irked with his team.

“Somebody has to step up and say: ‘He’s not going to get five, six, seven, eight,” said Jones.

Justice Sueing led Cal with 14 points, well off his 27 against Washington on Thursday. Sueing played with great restraint against the Huskies. On Saturday, he appeared rushed, committing five of Cal’s 14 turnovers.

After 22 turnovers against Stanford, 23 against Washington, and 10 in the first half against Cal, the Cougars had just five turnovers in the second half.

“I thought we did a much better job of taking care of the ball and the big reason for that is not over-dribbling,” WSU coach Ernie Kent said. “This is a passing system, not a dribbling system.”

Cal returns home to face conference co-leaders Arizona on Wednesday at 6 pm PT. The No. 17 Wildcats are tied atop the standings with Stanford, winners of four straight.

Fumbled away: Cal’s now familiar shortcomings crop up again in 66-56 loss at Washington

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.

Slow start, turnovers lead to USC rout of Cal in Pac-12 home opener 80-62

Jonescalbears.com photo: Cal Bears head coach Wyking Jones during recent press conference

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY–The pained look on Coach Wyking Jones’ face said it all. The question regarding repeated slow starts for Jones’ California Golden Bears, especially at Haas Pavilion, was fair given that Cal scored just eight points in the first 10 minutes of Thursday’s disappointing 80-62 loss to USC.

And Jones’ response? As honest and revealing as any Division I basketball coach ever wants to be or has to be when admitting his team was outclassed.

“It’s frustrating, but our guys aren’t trying to do that,” Jones said. “They are trying to do the right thing. They are young, it’s a process, and we have to just focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. These guys who are freshman are going to be sophomores next year, and then juniors and then seniors, and really good. You have to focus on what the light at the end of the tunnel is as opposed to what’s going on right now.”

What’s going on for Cal right now is a youth-laden club without a forceful, ball handling leader is taking its lumps.  USC, a pre-season Top 25 pick that’s dealing with a recruiting scandal and its own shortcomings, may have been the last opponent the Bears wanted to see on the occasion of their Pac-12 home opener. Those lumps Cal’s taking were hand delivered by the Trojans on Thursday.

USC’s zone look with arms and hands everywhere befuddled the Bears to the tune 22 turnovers juxtaposed against just 13 assists on 23 made baskets.  Of those 23 baskets, only eight came in the first half when Cal fell behind by 26 points (38-12 with 1:54 remaining).  The deficit grew to 30 points briefly in the second half as Cal’s issues offensively morphed into defensive indifference.  While the final score was more palatable, this marked the third time this season Cal has lost by 18 or more points at home this season.

If the light at the end of the tunnel that Coach Jones spoke of was to be interpreted literally, it would have been one lit candle at the western most juncture of BART’s Transbay Tube on Thursday.

“We have another game on Saturday against UCLA so we have to move past this and regather tomorrow morning, and prepare for UCLA,” said freshman Justice Sueing, who led the Bears with 15 points.

In fairness to the Bears, the Trojans are the last team a struggling outfit wants to see. Just ask USC’s most recent opponent Washington State.  With the Cougars methodically trying to regain their footing against the Trojans on New Years’ Eve after a first half that was as poor as Cal’s, WSU cut USC’s lead to just eight points. But on the next six possessions, Washington State committed five turnovers and saw their deficit balloon to 18 points in less than the three minutes that elapsed on the game clock.

Against Cal, USC’s zone caused the Bears to be extremely tentative to the point that guards Don Coleman and Darius McNeill became non-factors in the first 25 minutes of the game.  Cal’s normally high scoring guards combined to miss 13 of their 16 shots while committing six turnovers.  While McNeill found a way to extend his impressive streak of hitting at least one three-pointer in 14 of his 15 games as a collegian, his penetration into the paint was almost non-existent.

Marcus Lee had an impressive start offensively with a follow dunk and a couple of other buckets from point blank range, but five turnovers and foul trouble kept the Kentucky transfer from making much of a difference as the game progressed.

The Trojans were led by Nick Rakocevic with 19 points. Bennie Boatwright added 15 points, and Jordan Usher had 14 off the bench for USC.

Chimezie Metu was suspended for the first 20 minutes for his actions against Washington State in which cameras caught the 6’10” junior jabbing an opponent in the groin. Metu played 11 minutes in the second half, in which his epic dunk over Lee immediately triggered a SportsCenter alert all the way across the country at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.

The Bears return to the hardwood on Saturday when UCLA visits Haas Pavilion at 3:30pm.

Cal’s rollercoaster season continues in Pac-12 opening win at Stanford

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Stanford forward Michael Humphrey (10) battles for a loose ball against California guard Don Coleman (14) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

 

By Morris Phillips

The switch operating the team performance appliance for Cal basketball didn’t get flipped until less than 10 minutes remained in Saturday’s conference opener at Stanford.

But once switched, the effect was immediate.

The Bears’ zone defense that was ineffective from the start disappeared. A menacing man-to-man scheme took its place. Despite a 17-point halftime deficit, the belief returned. And then the made baskets, one after another.

“Once our guys got settled in and saw what they were trying to do, we started doing a better job of containing them off the dribble,” Coach Wyking Jones said of the comeback that would wipe out Stanford’s big lead in the final seven minutes of the game.
“Nick Hamilton came in and really gave us a spark. His energy and enthusiasm–the other guys feed off of it. Once we did a better job of keeping them off the offensive glass, it worked out for us.”

For Cal, winning at Maples Pavilion has never been easy. Mike Montgomery did it on his initial visit as the opposing coach, then suffered a slew of losses in the ensuing years.  Jaylen Brown didn’t win at Stanford in his one opportunity. Ivan Rabb got two shots and came up empty. Jason Kidd won at Maples once–at the time it felt like the breakthrough of the century.

And this edition of California basketball coming off an embarrassing 25-point loss to Portland State at home, not to mention similar defeats at the hands of Central Arkansas, Cal State Northridge and Chaminade? They put on their super hero capes and pulled off a tremendous finish that gathered the collective strengths of a group that had been up and down throughout the non-conference slate.

Marcus Lee overcame early foul trouble and, along with Kingsley Okoroh, anchored the defense late. Lee finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. Justice Sueing scored eight points in the final three minutes. And little utilized freshman Grant Anticevich canned a key three-pointer down the stretch.

And in a battle of struggling clubs grasping for 40 minutes of consistency, the Bears came up with 10 minutes of winning play that they’re unlikely to forget.