The Cal men’s basketball team (6-7) rolled into Berkeley riding the wave of a three-game winning streak before its final nonconference matchup against Portland State (10-3). That wave, however, brutally came crashing down as the Vikings pillaged the Bears at Haas Pavilion in the form of a commanding 106-81 win.
This game marks the first time Cal has allowed 100 points in a ballgame since Feb. 10, 2011, when the team allowed 109 points against Washington.
The best word to describe Cal’s gut punch of a loss is frustration. As the mistakes piled up, the Bears became visibly flustered, and that frustration came to a boiling point when senior Nick Hamilton was assessed a technical foul. Cal junior Don Coleman had some words for Portland State senior Brandon Hollins, and Hamilton attempted to play mediator. Hamilton gave Hollins a bit of a shove to push him away from a confrontation. After a replay review, Hamilton was handed the tech. Freshman Darius McNeill let the flow of the game get the best of him as well, expressing negative body language on multiple occasions.
“For our guys to kinda, I wouldn’t say quit, but for them to kinda, not find it in them to dig ourselves out of holes and continue to fight is disappointing. I thought that we had made so much progress over the last three games,” said head coach Wyking Jones.
For the first time this season, McNeill didn’t hit a single three-pointer, snapping a 12-game streak. This game also marked the first time Cal as a team failed to hit at least one three-pointer.
“The focus was to get the ball into the paint and not have to rely on three-point shooting,” Jones said. “The game plan was to try and get paint touches and get the ball into the post. We knew that we weren’t going to outshoot this team. Our strategy was to capitalize in the paint. We turned the ball over at such a high rate that we didn’t allow ourselves to even be able to exploit that.”
It’s difficult to sugarcoat the end result, as the loss was by far Cal’s ugliest of the year. The most morale-depleting of mistakes were in the turnover department, as the Bears finished the night with 26 turnovers, a total which would spell certain doom for any team. Portland State, on the other hand, recorded 26 assists.
After totaling the fewest turnovers of the season against Seattle, Cal recorded the most turnovers of the young season against Portland State, its previous high being 22 against Central Arkansas.
Portland State opted to run with the full-court press right out of the gate, throwing multiple players at whoever inbounded the ball. The Vikings’ defensive pressure worked to perfection as they forced a number of turnovers in the backcourt, one of which was a 10-second violation at the expense of McNeill.
“(The full-court press) was better than what I expected,” Jones said. “On film, you see it. You see them turning people over at a high rate. We had a one-day prep, and we tried to simulate it and show our guys what to expect with practice yesterday and shootaround today. Until you actually have to go through it and feel it, our guys just weren’t ready for how physical it is, how quick those guys were to the ball. In practice, you try to simulate it but you can’t.”
On possessions in which Cal found its way into the frontcourt without a turnover, Portland State would continue to harass the ballhandler and provide no room to breathe. Not only did the Vikings send men at the ballhandler, but they shut down the passing lanes, minimizing the amount of passes the Bears could make and stagnating Cal’s offensive sets. The Vikings’ utilization of this pressure would also shave time off the shot clock, forcing the Bears to rush their possessions and settle for shots that were less than desirable.
In the first 10 minutes of regulation alone, Cal would give away the rock eight times, some of which were brutal enough to induce a collective sigh of agony from the home crowd. That turnover total would only further snowball from there, as the Bears would finish with 16 turnovers in the first half, eclipsing their season average in turnovers before the first 20 minutes of basketball.
Those Cal giveaways proved to be instant fuel for the Portland State offense, as the Vikings recorded 40 points off turnovers, 31 of which came in the first half alone.
“Can’t win like that,” Coleman said.
The Vikings were unforgiving of the Bears’ miscues and seamlessly ran their offensive sets, getting quality looks at the bucket both down low and from beyond the arc, looking San Antonio Spurs-esque as they racked up the assist numbers. Portland State’s offense wasn’t top-heavy and got multiple players involved, ending the game with six players finishing in double figures.
Heading the Portland State offense was the three-headed monster of seniors Bryce Canda and Deontae North and junior Michael Mayhew, who combined for 58 points and 10 three-pointers. Freshman guard Holland Woods had a marvelous game distributing the ball, recording a career-high 13 assists while only tuning the ball over once.
“I thought (Woods) was great,” Jones said. “I thought he was a great point guard. He’s very unselfish. He didn’t look to do too much.”
Jones attempted to counter the Portland State offense early on by switching out his defensive personnel. Jones has opted to roll with smaller lineups, only having one of the pair of seniors consisting of Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh in the game at a time, but he opted to roll with both members of the tandem for extended minutes to counter Portland State’s 7’1”, 290-pound center, senior Ryan Edwards.
The Bears also began the second half with a different starting five as Jones swapped in freshman Juhwan Harris-Dyson for Hamilton, but the Vikings continued to have their way on offense regardless of the bodies on the floor.
The Bears didn’t shoot horribly from the field, finishing the game with a field goal percentage of 45 percent, but the Vikings shot a whopping 21 more shots, a product of the turnovers they produced.
Portland State’s 106 points are the most Cal’s defense has allowed all season, besting the 96 points Central Arkansas put up two weeks ago. The Bears have now allowed more than 90 points four times this season.
Not only did the Vikings rack up the points, but they had plenty of fun doing it. Hollins converted two alley-oops, which fully activated the Viking bench mob. Edwards perfectly timed a tip slam over Lee as well which set off the Portland State bench, causing them to knock down all of its seats.
Cal, according to Jones, will have a couple days to rest before getting back to business Tuesday and preparing for its first conference game against Stanford on Dec. 30.