UCLA hands Cal men’s basketball 23-point loss

Debbie Yuen/File

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After every blowout loss that the Cal men’s basketball team (7-9) has suffered, it’s fair to ask whether the losses can get any worse. But against a hungry UCLA (12-4) squad eager to cleanse itself of a double-overtime loss to Stanford, the Bears were the recipients of another beat-down yet again as the Bruins turned Haas Pavilion into Pauley Pavilion North.

On an afternoon with plenty of Bruin-faithful fans in attendance attempting to drown out the home crowd, UCLA could do no wrong, following in the footsteps of USC with a 107-84 thrashing of Cal, the most points the Bears have allowed all season.

The loss marks the second time the Bears have allowed an opponent to hit the century mark in points this season, as well as the sixth time the Bears have lost by at least 14 points.

For Cal, it was another rough day at the office in the offense department. While the Bears did a decent job of taking care of the basketball, they shot a combined 39.4 percent from the field as a team after posting a field goal percentage of 39.7 percent against USC.

Much to the tune of their games against the Cardinal and the Trojans, there was a clear difference in the Bears’ performance on offense between the first half and the second half. Cal shot a horrid 25.6 percent from the field and 18.2 percent from 3 in the first half, but flipped a switch and shot 62.1 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from 3 after the break. All five of the Bears’ starters would finish the game with double-digits in scoring.

Starting slow has been a trend for Cal since it entered conference play, shooting 30 percent even in the first half against Stanford and 30.8 percent in the first half against USC. In the last three first halves, Cal has shot a combined 28 percent from the field and scored an average of 25.7 points, totals that spell doom regardless of how the team performs in the second half.

“We need to come out fired up,” said senior Marcus Lee. “We come out in the second half fired up with energy after the game settles in. But we have to do that in the first half — throw the first punch instead of sitting back and waiting for it.”

Behind another hot shooting performance in the second half, Cal slowly began to climb back in the contest, trimming UCLA’s 21-point halftime lead to as few as 10 points. The Bruins responded with a great half of their own in shooting the ball, however, and garnered just enough offense to keep the Bears at bay.

“I was really happy with our guys’ fight in the second half,” said head coach Wyking Jones. “I felt like the energy is what we wanted all year. They showed a lot of toughness, a lot of fight, a lot of aggressiveness and that’s what I’ve been looking for. Unfortunately, we did it when we were down 21.”

On the other hand, UCLA exposed Cal’s zone defense all game long en route to a 58.2 shooting percentage and 17 made 3-pointers, the most 3-pointers Cal’s defense has allowed this season. Senior Thomas Welsh and freshman Kris Wilkes each hit four shots from downtown.

“They’re a great team,” Lee said. “They can shoot from all five positions. That’s really hard when you have to play defense on it because you have to spread out wider on that and still play help defense. They played that really well and they worked to their strengths.”

The Bruins received offensive production all across the board as six Bruins finished the ballgame with double figures with junior Aaron Holiday finish with a team-high 21 points. Welsh would end his afternoon with 19 points and 14 rebounds.

Freshman Justice Sueing was once again one of the few bright spots for the Bears amid a laugher of a contest, finishing the game with 22 points on a tidy 8 of 13 shooting from the field in addition to 7 rebounds.

Sueing has been much more aggressive on the offensive end as of late, hitting the double-digit mark in points for the third consecutive contest and his fourth in his last five games with tonight’s performance. Since entering Pac-12 play, Sueing is averaging 18.3 points per game on 14.3 shots per game, both of which are well above his season averages.

“I’m just trying to read the defense, trying to see my opportunities to score,” Sueing said. “I want to make the right play at the end of the day.”

Senior Marcus Lee had a great day at the office, finishing the game with 19 points and 15 rebounds, recording his fifth double-double of the season. Like Welsh, Lee would record a double-double by the conclusion of the first 20 minutes of play.

After coming off of the bench in his last handful of appearances, freshman Juhwan Harris-Dyson made his return to the starting lineup for the first time in a month. Harris-Dyson has played his best basketball of the season when given extended minutes and had a solid game in his return to the starting five.

“Juhwan is starting to look like the guy that we always wanted him to be,” Jones said. “Before he lost 20 (pounds) and was down to 180, he did the things that you saw him do tonight.”

Cal will head up north to Washington for a two-game road trip against Washington (12-4) and Washington State (8-7). The Bears are a perfect 3-0 on the road this season.

“I think our guys enjoy being the underdog, enjoy being the villain on the road,” Jones said. “I’ve coached teams like that before, who enjoy the boos and enjoy silence in the crowd. They feed off of that.”

Justice delos Santos is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jdelossantos510