Heading into the new year, the Bears were looking to end 2018 on a high note but instead put forth a dreadful showing against Seattle that doesn’t bode well for 2019. The game, which became a bit of slog to watch in the second half, included 57 fouls total and saw Cal trailing by as much as 18 points.
The loss meant Cal now has a losing nonconference record in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the early 1960s.
The Bears (5-7) were defeated by the Redhawks (12-3), 82-73, on Saturday night in the team’s last nonconference competition before departing for Los Angeles to begin conference play against USC and UCLA starting Jan. 3.
The Bears were absolutely dominated in the first half at the worst of moments and were only marginally functional at the best of them, but they somehow found themselves down by only 9 points heading into the locker room at halftime.
“To start, we came out flat, like we weren’t ready to play to start the game. I don’t know why, but I have to do a better job of making sure that we’re ready to play,” said head coach Wyking Jones. “I could see it in shootaround. The energy level wasn’t there for whatever reason, but we can’t dig ourselves a hole.”
Just to provide a glimpse of how poorly the Bears played in the first half, Cal was down 21-4 with 11:45 to go in the first half. During that sequence, Seattle went on a 21-2 run over a period of seven minutes, including a 13-0 run over the last four minutes of that period.
The Bears, who were already short on size because of the absence of Connor Vanover, were put in an even tougher position when 6’8” Grant Anticevich went out of the game with early foul trouble. Unsurprisingly, Cal had a terrible time defending the paint.
Much of the responsibility fell on freshman Andre Kelly, who for as great as he’s been all year long, was in way over his head defending Seattle’s Myles Carter, who shot 6-8 from the field for 12 points to go along with eight rebounds, while Kelly responded with only 1 point of his own.
The Redhawks outscored the Bears 20-10 in the paint and 10-0 in second-chance points while also outrebounding them 19-7 over the first 20 minutes of action. Seattle grabbed eight offensive rebounds, while the Bears finished the half with three of their own.
Redhawks point guard Morgan Means had 12 points at the half, including converting all six of his free throws, while his backcourt mate Delante Jones poured in 9 points of his own.
“You give Seattle a lot of credit. They played hard. They competed. They were physical,” Jones said. “I challenged our guys before our game to rebound the basketball — all five guys. We go in at halftime down, 19-7, on the boards. Right there, something wasn’t right.”
The Bears finally awoke from their malaise with the help of Justice Sueing, who led the team in first-half scoring with 12 points, including converting all five opportunities from the charity stripe. Fellow sophomore Darius McNeill totaled 10 points in the first half, with 6 of his points coming from beyond the arc.
The Bears shot only 42.9 percent from the field but shot efficiently from the perimeter and converted 10 of their 13 free throw attempts; this allowed them to cut Seattle’s lead, in conjunction with a firmer defense that forced eight Redhawks turnovers.
In the opening of the second half, the Bears came out with a new, aggressive spirit, converting fast-break layups on back-to-back possessions, which helped propel Cal to a 48-47 lead with 12:44 to go in the second half, the team’s first lead since the very beginning of the game.
As soon as Cal’s fortune came, however, it just as quickly ground to a halt, governed more by physicality and foul calls than the more open-ended, free-flowing style that allowed the Bears to come back in the first place. Seattle adapted to rebuild its lead while Cal fell behind, never to return again.
The Bears certainly expended a tremendous amount of energy clawing back from the first-half hole they dug for themselves, which partly explains their failure to keep pace, but again, the larger issue was the Bears’ inability to stop the Redhawks around the basket. Seattle continued to generate second-chance points and draw fouls as the Redhawks methodically took control of the game.
Carter, who was giving Kelly so much trouble around the basket in the first half, scored 14 in the second to go along with five rebounds. He finished the night with 26 points and 13 rebounds, contributing significantly to Seattle’s 38-30 edge in rebounds. Means had 24 points for the Redhawks, including converting all 16 of his free throw attempts.
Cal’s Paris Austin scored 17 points in the second half, while his backcourt mate McNeill added 9, but it ultimately wasn’t enough to stop the bleeding.
“We’re definitely going to make adjustments,” Austin said. “We hit some adversity today. We’re going to move past it, learn from it, get better and get ready for our next game.”
— Kelly finished with four blocks — the most by a Cal player this season.
— The Bears were not the only conference team to struggle, as four other teams lost Saturday night, capping the worst December showing by a major conference in 20 years.
Rory O’Toole covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].