Cal men’s basketball struggles on both sides of the floor, Bears fall 60-79

Lorenzo Dela Cruz/Staff

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For UC Berkeley students, dead week marks the end of classes. Before Wednesday, the phrase hadn’t left the academic sphere, but Cal men’s basketball’s ghoulish 60-79 loss to the University of San Francisco gave “dead week” a new, dreadful layer.

“We got beat by a veteran team that wanted it more than we did tonight,” said Cal head coach Wyking Jones. “They had 14 offensive rebounds. They just had more fight.”

Four days before playing at Haas Pavilion, USF (8-1) suffered its first loss of the season to No. 17 Buffalo by a meager 4 points in distant Ireland. The Dons couldn’t have had a better reaction to a tough loss, though, visibly dominating their game against the Bears to take their first Pac-12 win after losing against 16 of their past 17 Pac-12 opponents.

Things started out on a slightly slower note Wednesday night, as neither team came out of the gates looking particularly strong. As the Dons found their groove, though, the Bears’ early and brief 8-4 lead quickly vanished.

With senior Frankie Ferrari leading the way, USF transformed its deficit into a 9-point lead as the Dons grabbed two offensive rebounds and scored 13 consecutive points to take things up a notch.

While USF is making itself known for its defensive efficiency this season, the Dons’ execution on the other end of the floor was especially notable against a struggling Cal defense. With more than 12 minutes still remaining in the first half, the Dons had already totaled five offensive rebounds.

Two key 3-pointers from Cal sophomore Darius McNeill and freshman Andre Kelly put the Bears at 19-21, a margin the Bears wouldn’t come close to regaining for the remainder of the game.

After Cal’s loss to Saint Mary’s on Saturday, Jones said the team would work on reducing its high turnover rate, but as of Wednesday, it seemed little progress had been made.

With 3:08 left in the first half, the Bears were matching their eight made shots with eight turnovers, and they didn’t seem too eager to make the most of the time remaining. Leaving the court down 24-34 at the half, Cal still matched its nine field goals with nine turnovers.

Cal’s inconsistent defense, paired with an offense that struggled to make shots, left things grim for the Bears in the second period.

“It started with us not being able to score,” Jones said. “When you don’t see the ball go through the rim, the urgency to get a stop builds. Our guys start to panic a little bit. That’s when you see silly fouls; that’s when you see guys not box out, not being focused.”

USF outscored Cal 19-5 to kick-start the second period, and as the half progressed, the Bears repeatedly failed to make the most of their opportunities.

In the first 12 minutes of the second half, McNeill missed all three of his shots, two of which he took from behind the arc. And while junior forward Roman Davis made his first appearance in the game, he didn’t accomplish much else. After missing his two free throws, Davis still has yet to score for the Bears during the short time he’s been on the court.

Despite falling far behind, some sort of fire still burned within Kelly. Whether he was on the floor desperate to keep the ball or burning through USF’s defense for a successful layup that got the few bodies in Haas Pavilion hollering, Kelly continued to demonstrate his energy and vital role on the team.

Before Wednesday, the Dons averaged 11.1 offensive rebounds per game, but they closed things out with 14 against the Bears, spread across 10 players.

“We’re playing together — we love it when other people play well,” said USF guard Charles Minlend, who led his team with 17 points and 11 rebounds. “Even if someone’s having an off game, someone else steps up.”

USF’s visible camaraderie and ability to play as a cohesive unit are traits the young Cal squad currently lacks. While the Bears have potential, they are starting the season on a rough note that is surely indicative of the road ahead.

“It’s tough when you give up that many offensive rebounds to feel like you’ve made any steps in the right direction,” Jones said.

Cal’s loss made this dead week a little gloomier than normal, but after you reach a certain low, you can only go back up. This might just be a turning point for the Bears.

Surina Khurana covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @surina_k.