With the season coming to a close in just a few weeks, the Bears’ season looks to finish as a disappointment. After a 5-4 start, there seemed to be promise that Cal would finally rise to be one of the best teams in the Pac-12. Instead, they went on to go 3-11 over their next 14 games. This includes a seven-game losing streak that was snapped last week in a surprise win over Colorado.
Even during the losing streak, there were some positive takeaways. Losing by just eight to USC and by a single point to Utah were both signs that Cal is not just some walkover team that gives away easy wins.
Speaking of walkover teams, the Bears will play the Washington Huskies in their second game of the week. The Huskies, who were mediocre last season, have been a Pac-12 abomination this season. They are 4-16 on the year, whereas no other Pac-12 team has fewer than seven wins.
On average, Washington has lost by almost 11 points per game. For reference, as bad as Cal has been at points this season, the team has only lost by an average of three points per game. The Bears played the Huskies earlier this year and won by only six. Based on that fact alone, you’d think that maybe these two teams are of similar tiers.
But that’s a false notion. That game was only close because Matt Bradley was missing and the Huskies shot an absurd 50% from three-point range. They average just 33% from beyond the arc so that was clearly an aberration.
Bradley is not only back and ready to play, but he’s also having one of the best stretches of his career since his return from injury. Over his last six games, Bradley is averaging 22.5 ppg while shooting 50% from the field and 48% from three.
So after a slow start to the year, Bradley is now on fire from everywhere. He’s even made 26 of his last 27 free throw attempts. The man cannot be stopped and he will have his way with the porous Huskies defense.
For Cal to beat Washington, the plan is simple. Let Bradley go to work and hope that Erik Stevenson, who averages under nine ppg, doesn’t go off for 27 again.
The Huskies’ only hope of winning is to manifest another surprise performance like Stevenson’s the first time these teams clashed. Chances are that, with Bradley in action this time, Washington would need even more luck to fall their way.
The more intriguing northwest matchup is on Thursday when the Bears will face the Washington State Cougars. When looking at the overall record, this game appears to be a complete mismatch in favor of the Cougars, as they are 12-10 while Cal is just 8-15. However, in conference play the two teams are almost identical as WSU has only two more conference wins.
The Cougars started their season on a tear, winning each of their first eight games, but since the shift to the new year they have won just four of their 13 games. This is almost as bad as the Bears record in that timeframe.
This game should be fairly close despite the fact that WSU won by double digits in the teams’ last meeting. Just like with the Huskies game, there was no Matt Bradley for the blue and gold.
The Cougars rely heavily on their leading scorer, Isaac Bonton, who has averaged just over 18 ppg this season. However, he’s on a bit of a cold streak, making just five of his past 17 three point attempts as well as just 16 of his past 49 field goal tries. Those numbers equate to 32% from the field and 29% from downtown to go with Bonton’s below average free throw shooting.
Given that Bradley has been as hot as Bonton has been cold, that individual matchup looks like it could be the determining factor in which team wins Thursday. If these two stars continue the way they have played lately, the Bears could walk out of Alaska Airlines Arena with a win under their belt.
Tom Aizenberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.