LOS ANGELES — Late in the second half, the Cal men’s basketball team had the opportunity of a dramatic comeback. But too many missed chances spoiled the short-lived possibility.
After being down by as much as 16 in the second half, the Bears closed the deficit to four points at the six-minute mark. But after three consecutive missed field goals, Cal’s momentum slipped away, and the Bears (8-5, 0-1 in the Pac-12) left Pauley Pavilion with a 79-65 loss.
“I thought the kids really competed,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “Had we made those point-blank shots, this could’ve been a whole different outcome.”
As Cal falls to a two-game losing streak, UCLA (11-3, 1-0) is red-hot with a six-game winning streak. After a rocky start, the Bruins are vying for a top-25 spot, especially after knocking out No.7 Missouri on Dec. 28.
UCLA’s talented freshmen duo of Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad led the team on Thursday as they have in the past five games. Anderson was the star of the night, leading the Bruins and recording his fourth double-double of the season with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
While Cal had guard Allen Crabbe stepping up to knock down 21 points, the team had no reliable second option on offense. The team sans Crabbe only shot 20-for-55 for 44 points.
The Bears had to battle fatigue late in the game due to their lack of depth. With Christian Behrens and Brandon Smith out with a torn ACL and a concussion respectively, Cal’s bench options were limited to forward Robert Thurman and guard Ricky Kreklow.
Early in the second half, Kreklow aggravated his recently injured ankle and did not return. With no depth at guard, starting guards Crabbe and Justin Cobbs shouldered 39 and 38 minutes, respectively.
“I’m not going to use (being tired) as an excuse,” Crabbe said. “Coaches are expecting me to play big minutes in a game like this, so I just have to push through it.”
While Crabbe tried to work through gritted teeth, Montgomery was more blunt about his team’s lack of depth.
“This is really hard right now,” Montgomery said. “We just don’t have a lot of options right now.”
After a 6-0 run to start the game, the Bears fell behind as UCLA drained three shots from beyond the arc. While the Bruins shot 4-for-12 in three-pointers, Cal, for the second straight game, has missed all its three-point attempts.
The Bears in its home loss against Harvard and at UCLA have shot 0-for-19 from the perimeter in total.
“They had four, and we had none,” Montgomery said. “That’s 12 points that we don’t get.”
The Bears adapted to its shortcomings by attacking under the basket instead, which was effective to a degree. Cal recorded 19 offensive rebounds — 13 from starting forwards Richard Solomon and David Kravish — which gave the Bears many second chances.
The Bears built its late comeback around the offensive glass. New opportunities gave Crabbe time to regain his shooting touch. Despite Crabbe’s late-game heroics, poor shot selection by the team overall and the weak post offense ruined the comeback dream.
Cal will play its next game at USC on Saturday night.
Contact Seung Y. Lee at [email protected]