Sometimes you don’t need to know the score of a game to know the outcome. Sometimes all you have to do is look at a team’s bench to ascertain the trajectory, as well as the final result, of a contest.
While the Cal men’s basketball team’s bench had been loud and boisterous for much of the team’s close second half against Oregon, it fell silent and still in the last five minutes, reflecting the precipitous fall that the Bears experienced from a near-comeback to a double-digit 66-53 loss.
“Tough one,” said Cal head coach Wyking Jones. “I thought we had gotten away from digging ourselves holes at the beginning of games, but we didn’t set a good tone. We put ourselves in bad situations by turning the ball over and getting ourselves in foul trouble.”
Jones opted for his freshman-senior starting lineup that included both big men — seniors Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh — as well as Cal’s recent leading scorers freshmen Justice Sueing and Darius McNeill. While that particular starting lineup has performed well as of late, it was plagued by the season-long trend of slow and sloppy starts.
In the first half, the Ducks amassed a 9-point lead before the Bears even found the scoreboard — which finally came after six minutes of play from junior guard Don Coleman, who had missed Cal’s previous two games because of a violation of team rules.
The Bears appeared to be unable to find a fitting pace, especially as Oregon continued to score steadily throughout the half. Increasing the speed of play and pushing the ball up the court often led to sloppy shots and wasted possessions. Meanwhile, slowing it down appeared to stall the Bears’ half-court offense, which lacked off-ball movement and relied too heavily on isolation plays.
Facing a 15-point deficit with a little less than four minutes remaining in the first half, though, the Bears appeared to flip a switch. Lee made subsequent powerful post moves, scoring on a baseline jumper and a layup down low.
Cal exploited the Ducks’ offensive mistakes, and by the end of the half, the team had reduced Oregon’s lead to just 8. The slight comeback was impressive, considering Cal shot a dismal 33.3 percent from the field for the game, compared to the 55.3 percent of the sharp-shooting Ducks.
But here’s the thing about chipping away at a lead: You’ve got to keep doing it if you want to pull off a comeback win. That requires either a team to go on a scoring run or its opponent to suffer from a scoring drought — the ideal situation would be a combination of both. Unfortunately for the Bears, neither came their way in the second half against Oregon.
While there were moments of offensive efficiency, they rarely piggy-backed upon each other, making it difficult for Cal to put together the push that it needed to overcome its early-game deficit. The Bears were able to chip the Ducks’ lead to just five, but the final push was missing — as was the scoring drought from Oregon, who shot lights out from downtown.
“We always knew that if we kept the game close then we could make a run at any time,” Sueing said. “But those defensive lapses where we gave them a layup or a dunk or we let them get an open shot, those hurt us.”
Not aiding Cal’s situation was the loss of Lee and Okoroh — both of whom fouled out in the second half after putting up just five points each. Okoroh, however, had made his presence known down low throughout the game, grabbing eight rebounds. Unsurprisingly, the Bears’ scoring efforts were led by Coleman and Sueing, who scored 16 and 12 points, respectively — albeit on subpar shooting efficiency.
As the Bears get closer and close to obtaining wins, their falls seem more and more painful and precipitous. But Cal is going to have to pick itself up and dust itself off if it wants to actually earn one.
Sophie Goethals covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]