Cal men’s basketball struggles mightily from field, falls 78-53 to Washington State

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Debbie Yuen/File

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Watching a basketball team carried by freshmen can undoubtedly be exciting. Getting to see young players grow and improve is thrilling, and thinking about how good the team will be in a few years as the bulk of players grow can be very satisfying.

What is not so satisfying about a team carried by freshmen is the inevitable lapses and mistakes that come from a lack of experience and older leadership. Such is the case with the Cal men’s basketball team (7-11, 1-4), which, despite its three starting freshmen scoring 32 of the team’s 53 total points, fell flat to Washington State (9-8, 1-4) on the road, 78-53.

Throughout their whole game against the Cougars, the Bears suffered from poor shooting, as they were unable to sink shots from outside while also being shut down on the inside by Washington State’s big men. Cal shot a dismal 33 percent from the field in the first half and fared no better in the second half, finishing the game with a total shooting percentage of 32 percent.

And while it seemed that the Bears could do no right when it came to shooting, it appeared that the Cougars could do no wrong. Washington State star junior Robert Franks was a monster from nearly every corner of the court, finishing the game with 34 points and shooting an astonishing 10 of 13 from long range.

The Bears’ defense, which in the first half was quicker in transition and amassed six steals in the first 20 minutes, appeared to lose all shape and discipline in the latter half of the contest. Playing a zone, Cal rotated poorly to open shooters, allowing the Cougars to become red-hot from beyond the arc, going 15 for 28 as a team. Washington State displayed a nearly perfect textbook example of ball rotation throughout the second half, finding open players until the Bears’ defense was left scrambling.

Despite its defensive challenges, Cal was neck and neck with Washington State in the first half, entering the visiting locker room for the break down by just five points, 30-25. The closer nature of that first half was a result of the Bears’ tempo pushing, which led to more transition points and productive offensive possessions. That margin, however, expanded steadily throughout the second half, as the Cougars’ shooters caught fire and the Bears’ defense lost more of its tenacity.

The beacons of Cal’s offense came in the form of freshmen Justice Sueing, Juhwan Harris-Dyson and Darius McNeill. Sueing led the pack with 14 points, but even his shooting appeared off as he went 6 for 16 from the field. Harris-Dyson recorded a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds, proving his toughness down low, especially against larger foes.

Markedly absent from the Bears’ scoring efforts were Cal’s upperclassmen — junior Don Coleman and seniors Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh. Coleman, who has been one of Cal’s leading scorers, tallied just 10 points, while Lee put up six and Okoroh zero. Without contributions from their veterans, the Bears simply could not keep up with the Cougars’ sharp shooting, and the game spiraled out of their hands in the second half.

Returning home for its next game against No. 17 Arizona (14-4, 4-1), Cal will once again have to find a way to incorporate all of its players in the offensive game plan — or it will once again find itself unable to contend against fast-paced and high-scoring Pac-12 opponents.

Sophie Goethals covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]