The game was on the verge of slipping away when a David Kravish jumper clanked off the rim. Kyle Anderson grabbed the rebound and trotted up the court, doing great justice to his “Slow-Mo” nickname. He dribbled behind the entire Cal men’s basketball defense, somehow reaching half court with nary a Bear stepping in his way. A Cal perimeter defender approached near the three-point line; Anderson crossed him over and went left toward the key. Christian Behrens stepped up for the help defense, and Anderson veered back right toward the hole. With Behrens all over him, Anderson — who finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds — contorted his right arm towards the basket while flying by. The shot fell, and the whistle blew. The Bruins had a 17-point lead with 16 minutes remaining. Cal’s winless road trip was all but in the books.
At the final buzzer, Cal had indeed lost its second consecutive conference game, 76-64. Unlike in their matchup with USC on Wednesday, the Bears (14-6, 5-2 Pac-12) refused to roll over when faced with a double-digit deficit deep into the second half. Whereas Cal allowed the Trojans to coast with a comfortable lead for the entirety of the second frame — primarily thanks to a lackluster defensive performance from the Bears’ guards — they responded in exactly the opposite way at Pauley Pavilion, ramping up their defensive intensity to turn a blowout into a nail-biter.
Cal’s offense hit a wall at the start of the second half, going bucketless until the 12-minute mark when a Jabari Bird three-pointer cut the Bruins’ lead to 13. Bird has struggled mightily since returning from his sprained ankle but looked spry down the stretch for the Bears, scoring 13 points in a four-minute stretch.
Bird was incandescent in transition, flying down the floor and beating everyone to the basket following every UCLA miss. And miss they did: The Bruins (16-4, 5-2) scored just four points over a nine-minute stretch. Thanks to Bird’s play in transition and a spirited stretch of defense, Cal closed the once-19-point-deficit to three with just under seven minutes remaining.
It quickly became clear the Bears’ tank had run empty. Anderson ended the 19-4 run with a three-point play, stretching the Bruins lead to six. Two minutes later, Bryce Alford converted a turnover from a visibly tired Bird into an easy layup on the other end. Montgomery called time-out. A second herculean effort was needed to overcome the nine-point deficit; on this night, Cal just didn’t have the fortitude. Matthews bricked a jumper coming out of the break. A Jordan Adams bucket gave UCLA a double-digit lead. The Bears left the City of Angels without a win, but they at least managed to get some demons off their back.