“Defend our Haas.” Whether it be literally or metaphorically, the Cal men’s basketball team has seldom succeeded in defending home court, and in the Bears’ final home game of the season, Haas Pavilion was once again taken over by the enemy.
On an ugly, mistake-filled afternoon that saw Cal fall back into its old ways, Washington walked away with a 17-point win, stomping the Bears on their home court like so many others have this season, 68-51.
Cal’s Senior Day saw the Bears devolve into being a one-half team. Cal and Washington entered the halftime break tied at 35, but the Bears only scored 16 points on 24 percent shooting in the second half, well short of the Huskies’ 33 points.
Part of the Bears’ dry spell in the second half can be attributed to seniors Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh succumbing to foul trouble, allowing Washington to throw more defenders at Cal’s other primary offensive weapons.
“Once Marcus and King got into foul trouble, their defensive focus was on Darius (McNeill) and Don (Coleman) and Justice (Sueing),” said head coach Wyking Jones. “They could focus their attention (on them). The two guys that could hurt us inside are out of the game, so now let’s making sure the perimeter tight, taking away driving lanes, getting over ball screens. Half of our attack was gone at that point.”
While the afternoon was dedicated to the seniors, it was the underclassmen who stole the show for the Bears. For the young bloods, it was their way of thanking the veterans for their services and promising them to take it from here a la Q-Tip.
“As the game went, you realize that Senior Night is not for the seniors,” Lee said. “It’s passing the baton off to the freshmen, understanding that even though this year didn’t go as well as we planned, you understand we’re building a cathedral.”
After struggling to find his touch in the second half of the season, the first-half version of freshman Darius McNeill re-emerged in grand fashion.
McNeill eclipsed his previous high of points scored against a conference opponent, recording 17 points while inching closer to history.
With three triples, McNeill brought his total on the season to 60, inches closer to Allen Crabbe’s freshman record of 62 three-pointers made. Should McNeill stick around for a couple more seasons, his name may well be at the top of the program’s leaderboards as well.
The freshman’s performance also marks the first time he has shot 50 percent in a single game since the beginning of conference play.
Okoroh, who has spent four seasons at Haas Pavilion sending out rejections just like the Haas School of Business, added two more rejections to his still growing career total.
Okoroh, averaging two blocks per contest, needs to record 14 more blocks over the next three guaranteed games to move past Michael Stewart for second place on Cal’s all-time blocks list.
Fellow senior Lee, a Bay Area native who has only spent one season with Cal after three seasons with Kentucky, added two blocks of his own. Lee fouled out in the final minutes of the second half, but he was greeted with a standing ovation as he walked back to the bench.
At the end of the press conference following the game, Jones also briefly discussed the situation at Arizona regarding Sean Miller.
“For me, you know, I’m a coach,” Jones said. “Although we’re all competitors, and we have to compete against each other night in, night out in this conference, you don’t want to see that. It’s tough. We all know each other; we all hang out. When you see that, it’s just tough. I don’t know what’s true or what’s false, but if those are the decisions that some folks have made, then they have to deal with it.”
“It takes the focus off what it should be about and it should be about the players, it should be about the teams, not us coaches. At the end of the day, you don’t tune into the game to watch us; you tune into the game to watch them. It takes away the focus of what it’s really all about.”