Cal men’s basketball upsets San Diego State in 63-62 win

Lianne Frick/File

In its first true road game of the season, the Cal men’s basketball team (4-6) took its fans on a roller coaster as it faced off against San Diego State (7-3). With more ups than downs, the Bears snapped a two-game skid as they pulled off a tight 63-62 win.

Cal’s zone defense and slow tempo took center stage in the first half against the Aztecs. The Bears stunned the home crowd by starting the game on an 11-2 run. San Diego State recovered from its initial shock and took the lead with about four minutes remaining in the first when freshman Matt Mitchell drained a corner 3-pointer to put the Aztecs up 29-28. During the first half, Cal forced the Aztecs to become a perimeter team, keeping them outside and forcing them to take 3-pointers — an area that isn’t their strong suit, as they shoot only 30 percent as a team.

Even as Cal’s early lead melted away and Lee was restricted to the bench with three personal fouls in the first half, the Bears didn’t back down. McNeill stepped up, keeping Cal in the game with 10 first-half points, knocking down all three shots from the field and both of his free throws. Senior Kingsley Okoroh and junior Don Coleman helped out as well, coming up with five rebounds each and totaling 9 and 8 points, respectively, through the first 20 minutes. Cal went to the locker room at halftime leading 39-34.

The Bears started the second half with a 9-point run, going up as much as 14 points to stun the crowd. As Lee continued to sit on the bench with his fouls, Sueing and Coleman led the team on the offensive end of the floor.

Despite Cal’s best efforts, the team couldn’t keep the Aztecs at bay. Senior Malik Pope, who would finish the game with 20 points and eight rebounds, led San Diego State back into the game.

As the game wound down, both teams began to play frantically. While Cal kept its offensive sets slow and simple, the Aztecs countered with fast plays and accurate shots that kept the game close. San Diego State also became more active on defense, forcing the Bears to make tough shots to beat the clock.

With less than a minute remaining in the game, Cal was down by 1 point. Just as it seemed as if the Bears couldn’t pull through, freshman Juhwan Harris-Dyson was fouled in the paint on an offensive fast break. With only 7.8 seconds remaining, he made both free throws and put Cal up 63-62. The Aztecs were unable to recover in the time remaining, and the Bears finished ahead by 1 point for their fourth win of the season.

Coleman was the surprise of the afternoon, leading the team with 19 points and playing all 40 minutes. He showed his strength on free throws, making 7 of 9, and had five assists as well. This was aided by the Bears’ new tempo, which set them apart and proved to be an effective strategy.

While this win boosts the confidence of a team very much in need of it, there’s still work to be done if Cal wants to turn its season around. The struggles on defense, albeit less than usual, allowed San Diego State to make a huge comeback and, along with the never-ending battle with turnovers, must be addressed if the Bears want to turn the season around.

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