Many of the games Cal has played this season follow the same outline. One team gets an early lead, blows almost all of its cushion, then comes out of the locker room to put on a dominant second-half performance. This time, San Francisco followed this pattern to defeat Cal 76-64 at home.
The Bears have been a team characterized by inconsistent scoring and defense, which leads to huge swings that can benefit either team. When it has the lead, Cal has given up huge scoring runs to let the other team back in the game. Against the Dons, however, the Bears strung together an early comeback run to put themselves within striking distance at the half.
Cal experimented with a new starting lineup for the first time this season, replacing leading scorer sophomore guard Matt Bradley with junior guard Juhwan Harris-Dyson, resulting in disaster. The Bears missed seven-straight shots to start the game, and the first bucket didn’t come until Bradley was subbed in and hit a 3-pointer after almost 7 minutes of play.
The poor start gave San Francisco a 10-0 lead that it was able to extend to 15 points before Cal went on a 22-9 run to finish the first period down by only two points.
The Bears struggled to limit the Dons on defense throughout the game, as four players reached the double-digit mark in scoring for San Francisco.
“That’s a challenge when you play a team that’s as balanced as this team is. You hope to contain some of those guys — you’re not going to shut them out,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox. “They’re too balanced, and balanced teams are hard to stop because they can go so many different places to score. Obviously, as we play on the road, those kids are playing in environments that they are confident in and comfortable in.”
In the second half, the Dons jumped out of the gate with six unanswered points, leaving the Bears in a spot that they couldn’t recover from. Every time Cal scored, San Francisco was quick to return the favor to keep its lead alive.
Despite graduate transfer guard Kareem South having his best scoring game yet with the Bears, pouring in 20 points, San Francisco senior center Jimbo Lull was able to match that with 20 of his own on much more efficient scoring. The Dons shot almost 50% from the field in the second half, as they slowly strangled the Bears’ dreams of a comeback and finished with a 76-64 win.
Once again, Cal’s opponent won the battle of the offensive glass, which lead to more second-chance points for San Francisco. A similar story can be seen with the Bears giving up a whopping 17 points off turnovers.
“Well, that’s a work in progress. We have not been pleased with our rebounding, and so it’s a daily emphasis,” Fox said. “It starts with attention to that area of the game, and the execution of block-outs and the repetitive drill work it takes to make those things happen. It’s something that we’re obviously working on.”
The Bears remain winless on the road this season and are headed away from home again this week — to Santa Clara this time to face the 8-2 Broncos.
“I think playing on the road, no matter where you play the game or who you play against, if you’re mature enough to understand the game is the same thing as you play on your home court, then you’re off to a good start,” Fox said.
Santa Clara is another team with a high-powered offense just like San Francisco. The Broncos have four players that are averaging more than 10 points a game, and the team averages nearly 80 points a game.
The Broncos’ only two losses this season come from Stanford in November and Nevada earlier this week. With a win against Washington State earlier in the season, Santa Clara has already proven it can compete with Pac-12 teams. Cal has won the last three matchups between the schools and has not lost at Santa Clara since 1977 — two streaks the Bears will hope to keep alive this weekend.
Cal will need to figure out how to be more consistent on offense and play sound basketball to earn its first road win of the season. Simply limiting turnovers and protecting the rim can give the Bears the boost that they need to win.
Trilok Reddy covers men’s basketball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.