Fifty seconds into the Saturday night game against Harvard, Cal guard Justin Cobbs stole the ball and dunked it in for the tilt’s first points. For the next 37 minutes, the Bears trailed behind the underdog Crimson squad.
The next 39 minutes told the story of a Cal squad chasing the Harvard’s coattails all Saturday night, occasionally catching up to the Crimson in spurts of inspired play. But the Bears kept falling short, and Harvard always pulled away with their red-hot perimeter shooting for the 67-62 victory.
The loss at Haas Pavilion leaves an unsightly black mark at Cal’s portfolio for the March Madness, which finished the non-conference schedule with a 8-4 record for the ninth place in the Pac-12 standings. As 11-point favorites coming in, Cal’s struggles to overcome, let alone tie, a 7-4 Harvard team bodes ill for the team’s current prospects.
Excluding Cobbs’ flashy highlight to open the game, the Bears came out sluggish and sloppy in the beginning minutes of the game. Harvard took a 6-2 lead thanks to two three-pointers from Laurent Rivard and Christian Webster. In the first five minutes, Cal made one of its first seven field goals.
“We started off slow,” guard Allen Crabbe said. “They went on runs a couple of times and we had to play catch-up. We made plays but then they made bigger plays.”
The Crimson converted four more shots behind the arc in the first half, taking a 33-26 lead into halftime. While Harvard shot 10-for-27 three-pointers in the game, Cal fired blanks, missing all six attempts.
The Bears used its size advantage down the post to little success. Cal tried to get forward David Kravish into the game early, but after making two shots in quick succession, Kravish petered out into obscurity. He finished with 12 points and six rebounds.
“Statistically they’re one of the worst teams in the paint, but we couldn’t take advantage of it,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said.
Defensively, the post defense relentlessly swatted away Harvard’s shots — 11, tying a school record — and pushed the Crimson offense out into the perimeter. But it worked towards Harvard’s benefit, as it quickly found its three-point groove.
It was not until the 9:49 mark in the second half that Cal tied with the Crimson for the first time this game. Crabbe and Cobbs dug the team out from a seven-point gap, but Harvard guard Wesley Saunders responded by scoring the next seven points.
With less than two minutes, the Bears finally took a 62-61 lead with a layup from Kravish. Thirty-odd seconds later, Kravish gave up a foul, granting Saunders to drain two free throws and retake the lead.
In the last minute, Cal committed two mistakes that ended its chance at a victory. The first was an offensive rebound by Harvard, forcing the Bears to foul and give up two free throws to conserve time. Now down 65-62, with 10 seconds remaining, Cobbs turned the ball over.
“With the ball down by one we tried to run the ball down the floor, didn’t have it,” Montgomery said. “It wasn’t a good choice by me on what we ran when the ball went out of bounds, and we turned it over.”
The Bears will head down to Southern California to face UCLA on Jan. 3 for its first Pac-12 contest. But with four players injured, including starting center Richard Solomon, and tending its wounds, Cal will be riding on thin ice.
Contact Seung Y. Lee at [email protected]