Quarter-season recap: Cal men’s basketball’s youth provides hope for future

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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After its loss to San Francisco on Wednesday night, Cal men’s basketball officially hit the quarter-season mark. 30 games can’t cleanly divide into four equal quarters, but close enough!

With every passing game, last season is feeling less and less like an aberration and more a sign of what’s to come, barring a major shake-up. Through seven games, the Bears currently sit at 2-5 and are on pace to once again finish nonconference play with a losing record.

The first of those five losses came in the form of a 17-point loss to Yale in the Pac-12 China Game, making Cal the first Pac-12 team to lose the annual event.

On the flip side of that coin, Cal did give St. John’s a run for its money at the Barclays Center. The Red Storm were the overwhelming favorite, but the Bears were right in the ballgame, even holding onto a 7-point lead late in the second half before Shamorie Ponds led the comeback effort.

Even the two wins the Bears managed to squeak out weren’t all that pretty. In its home opener, Cal’s 17-point halftime lead was cut down to 7 before Hampton ran out of gas. Santa Clara gave Cal even more of a scare, slicing a 15-point lead all the way down to 1 point late in the second half.

The Bears did end up hanging on by a thread to win both games, and at the end of the day, the only numbers that matter are the ones in the win-loss column. That being said, there’s a very plausible scenario in which they cough up those games and have only one or even no wins.

If there’s a glimmer of hope for the future in the growing abyss of darkness that this season is turning into, it’s in a pair of first-year players.

In this early going, Matt Bradley and Andre Kelly have gone back and forth trying to make their case for Cal’s most impressive freshman. Bradley and Kelly have both started every game for the Bears thus far and have proven themselves worthy of staying there.

Seven games into the season, Kelly and Bradley are averaging 11.1 and 10.5 points per game, respectively.

Neither player has become a featured part of the offense yet, but they’ve both been fantastic thus far with the chances they have gotten.

Of the starters, Kelly and Bradley take the fewest and second-fewest shots per game, but they boast the highest and second-highest field goal percentage, respectively.

Against Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s, Bradley did most of his damage in the second half. In both of those games, he ended with a career-high 15 points, 13 of which came during the latter 20 minutes of play.

Kelly, despite being touted for his prowess as a point forward in high school, has been reduced to the confines of a traditional big man.

He’s been über-efficient in that role, shooting 65 percent from the field, but it’s clear there’s another level for him to ascend to, one he can reach if given the opportunity to handle the ball and shoot from distance.

Solidifying Cal’s bench unit are fellow freshmen Connor Vanover and Jacobi Gordon. While they’ve yet to post any real eye-popping numbers, the potential around these two is intriguing.

Vanover has played the fewest minutes of the bunch, but whether it be knocking down threes or catching lobs, he’s put points on the board in every appearance off the bench this season.

Gordon has been a mixed bag, but that can be chalked up to a combination of him adapting to college and still recovering from his Achilles tear.

The forward is only shooting 33 percent from the field, but he has a very confident and replicable shooting stroke, and the shots should fall in due time. It’s an added bonus that he’s capable of getting after the boards, nearly grabbing as many rebounds as Bradley despite playing far fewer minutes.

Averaging 3.9 points per game won’t land Vanover on any all-freshman teams, but he’s scored in every appearance off the bench thus far and helps partially alleviate the issue of bench scoring.

Justice delos Santos covers men’s basketball. Contact Justice delos Santos at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @justdelossantos.