Bulls overpower Bears to end Cal’s season

After its worst first half of the season, the Cal mens basketball team fell to South Florida in its NCAA play-in game.
Marcus Gedai/File
After its worst first half of the season, the Cal mens basketball team fell to South Florida in its NCAA play-in game.

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The Cal men’s basketball team began its season on the national stage by getting blown out.

On Wednesday night, the Bears ended their season the same way.

The 65-54 margin to fellow 12 seed South Florida did not tell the true story of the NCAA Tournament play-in game in Dayton, Ohio.

It took five minutes for Cal (24-10) to score its first basket, nearly another five minutes for someone other than Harper Kamp to make a field goal. By then, the Bulls (21-13) were up 20-11, well on their way to a Friday matchup with fifth-seeded Temple in Nashville, Tenn.

When Jorge Gutierrez’s jumper hit the rim, bounced up high in the air and fell in with just under nine minutes to go in the half, it appeared maybe Cal might mount a comeback.

Those were the Bears’ last points of the half.

“It’s tough,” Kamp said. “It’s hard to go out that way. We let up at some point. We stopped working as hard.”

Cal began its First Four tournament game at the University of Dayton Arena looking more like the team that lost three of its last four games than the squad that began the season ranked in the top 25 and slaughtered its first four opponents by more than 22 points a game. The Bears then, on national TV, got their first taste of elite competition, getting embarrassed by 39 points to Missouri on Nov. 22.

Wednesday’s first half was even worse.

Despite all the things Cal has worked on this season — all the improvement and maturation the players made and the chemistry and tenacity they developed — the Bears could not complete the simplest of basketball skills. They could not put the ball in the hoop.

Plenty of teams have struggled scoring against South Florida’s defense, one of the best in the country. But Cal’s anemic output in the first half was of monumental proportions. The Bears totaled 13 points. They were down by 23. Cal shot 5-for-24 (20.8 percent) in the half. South Florida’s 16 field goals exceeded the Bears’ point total.

“I didn’t imagine that happening,” said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery. “We dug ourselves a huge hole in the first half and probably as bad as I’ve seen us play. We just didn’t seem to have energy.”

It was no surprise, really. The Bears have struggled against athletic, physical defenses all season — they lost to Arizona at home and twice to Colorado. Then they went up against a Big East defense that came in allowing just 59.2 points per game.

One of Cal’s first good offensive possessions came with 11:30 remaining in the second half. Allen Crabbe came around screen and knocked down a mid-range jumper. Unfortunately for the Bears, that cut the deficit to 24.

“We just didn’t have any energy,” said Crabbe, who finished 3-for-14 from the field. “And, speaking for myself, it just seems like I take too long to get into the game.”

Cal chipped away at the lead and battled back for a respectable final score. That the Bears actually won the second half means little. That the effort was still there is surely something to be proud of.

With 27 seconds left in his career, Kamp committed a foul. Down 16, the Bears had no reason to foul — South Florida was not even in the bonus. Maybe Kamp, who had 19 points, just wanted a little more time in his Cal career, even if it was just a few more seconds.

With 14 seconds left, Montgomery took out Gutierrez, the Pac-12 Player of the Year who shot 4-for-10 in his final game in a Cal uniform. The two embraced — the weary Cal coach and his first recruit.

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  • Guest

    Let’s look at this in the positive: Since this team is clearly pretty awful, they did a heck of a job doing as well as they did during the season.

    Congrats, Bears, you did what you could. We salute you, or at least I do.

  • loverpoint

    Lets hope this new training facility will give Cal Players more endurance. With 3 games remaining in the regular season Cal just ran out of steam. The public was told that the new training facility was going to be a big recruiting magnet and draw lots of top flight athletes. Well we can see that it didn’t mean that much to the football players Cal was trying to recruit in 2012, and Montgomery isn’t doing anything spectacular in recruiting basketball players. 

  • Sshafikh

    I’ve been following Cal sports since ’88 when I started undergraduate studies at Berkeley. One thing I’ve notice about the athletic programs at Cal is they suffer from low moral, lack of confidence, and inability to play with passion. There are some programs like Rugby that know how to deal with adversity but for the most part (i.e. football, basketball, even water polo teams), Cal student/athletes don’t deal with pressure too well. Most of it is mental. In my opinion, they need people that can instill passion and confidence in them a lot more than they need X’s and O’s coaches.  It wouldn’t hurt if they talked to a psychologist now and again.
    What I saw last night was unbearable to watch. Don’t be fool by the final score. South Florida just let up at the end.

    • loverpoint

      I agree 100% with you about the mental aspect of the game. Not only do Cal teams  underperform in big games they also have mental blocks when traveling on the road. I look at Montgomery and Tedford they are 2 peas in a pod. They have no fire, Cal players do much better at home when they have the fans to inspire them but when they go on they road their coaches aren’t preparing them. Cals football team is becoming notoriously bad on the road. They should have beat Texas last year and they came out flat and allowed Texas to gain confidence and momentum. The same could be said of what just happened to their basketball team. The Cal players played like they never wanted to play basketball ever again. 

  • unbearable

    Geez! That was really horrible, pathetic, embarrasing, to say the least. What an EPIC FAIL! Now we know Washington should’ve been picked instead of Cal.

    • loverpoint

      You’re being  kind.  I hope they all got their degree because even Gutierez’s Pac-12 player of the year award won’t get him drafted into the NBA, not after playing like that. 

    • Sales

       UW lost to Oregon by 25 points and lost to UCLA and Oregon St. in its last two games. UW didn’t deserve a bid.

    • Guest

       No, no we do not. The Dawgs had a horrible RPI and gathered only 20 wins. That does not deserve an invitation and it wouldn’t have portended well for a matchup with South Florida if they had received one.

  • dlee

    Cal really needs to step it up in the first half of the games… a pathetic first half and a decent second half just don’t add up to a victory. Lessons from colorado (twice), stanfurd, arizona, usf and on. 
    Hopefully we see some better offense next season.

  • Mirin