The Cal men’s basketball team’s losses on the road appear almost formulaic: Open up with good defense, start to trail as the offense begins to stagnate and stage a late game comeback off of the hot hand of a single player only to come up short in the final minutes.
The Bears (14-8, 4-5 Pac-12) had a chance to escape the routine of their formulaic losses and come out the other end with their first conference road win of the season against Colorado (17-5, 6-3). Instead, Cal’s conference record dips below .500 as the squad came up short against the Buffs, 70-62.
With the way Cal opened up the first half defensively, the opportunity presented itself for the squad to clamp down and put the game away early. Colorado’s first seven shots were all jumpers and all misses. The Buffs started one of their first nine and followed that up by missing their next 10 shots from the field.
In that 10-minute span Colorado shot a little over five percent, the Bears were only able to put up 12 points on the board themselves. Cal was turning the ball over, but its stingy defense saved the squad on the other side of the floor. This delicate balance slightly favoring the Bears tipped in Colorado’s favor when forward Jaylen Brown committed his second foul in just under a minute, a stretch when he also turned the ball over twice.
A minute after Brown subbed out because of his foul trouble, the Buffs proceeded to make three consecutive shots, including back-to-back three pointers to cut the lead to 15-12. It was all Colorado from that point on. The Bears went cold and made just two of their next 12 shots.
While there was a lid on the hoop for the Cal shooters, everything was dropping for the Buffs. Colorado guards George King and Josh Fortune were zipping past their defenders and challenging the Cal frontcourt at the rim. King made his last four shots to close out the first half and assisted on Fortune’s corner trey seconds before heading into the locker room, 37-23.
Although Cal started to hit shots with a little more consistency, the squad continued to struggle, slowing down Colorado’s offense. Buffs forward Josh Scott opened up by sinking a jump shot on Colorado’s first possession, putting pressure on the Cal wings to collapse and help the overmatched Ivan Rabb. A three-pointer by forward Wesley Gordon put Colorado up 17, five minutes into the half.
Things started to swing Cal’s way a little after guard Jordan Mathews ran his man off of a screen and opened himself up for his first three-pointer and field goal of the contest. A layup, a couple of free-throws and another Mathews three later, the Bears found themselves trailing only 52-41 with a little less than 10 minutes remaining.
The Buffs would only attempt four shots and score three points in the next five minutes of the contest, in which Brown and Mathews scored a combined 10 points themselves to cut the lead to 55-50. Brown, who finished with 21 second-half points, attacked the rim with reckless abandon. Doing so collapsed the Colorado defense and freed Mathews, who sunk two three-pointers in this span, for better looks from behind-the-arc.
The Buffs responded, however, by dumping the ball down low to Scott. After Brown cut the lead to five with a pair of free-throws, Scott answered by dropping a jumper and a couple of free-throws himself. The Bears got within four points, 62-58, off of a Brown three-pointer, but never got closer than that with Colorado scoring its last 13 points from the free-throw line.
Winston Cho covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @winstonscho