LOS ANGELES, Calif. — You never really know what you have until it’s gone, and without starting point guard Paris Austin due to injury, Cal men’s basketball fell to UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, 98-83.
The Bears typically play a clean game of basketball, but with Austin out of commission and the Bruins utilizing the full court press on multiple occasions, they ended with a season-high 19 turnovers.
“We don’t turn the ball over 19 times with Paris in the lineup,” said head coach Wyking Jones. “He has no fear against presses. I think that they probably pressed us more than they would have had Paris played. Against these guys, when you turn it over, it’s a problem because they’re so athletic and so talented.”
Despite that steep figure, Cal actually ended the game having won the turnover battle as UCLA gave the ball up 22 times.
The turnovers stung and didn’t help when the Bruins got out in transition, but what really sunk the Bears was their three-point shooting — or lack thereof. The typically steady group of shooters combined to make only 4 of 20 attempts, a far cry from the team that entered the game having made around 38 percent of its three-pointers.
While UCLA ended up winning by 15 points, this wasn’t a lopsided affair by any stretch of the imagination. Despite being presented with multiple opportunities to lie down and die after the crowd started getting engaged, Cal hung around and hung around, cutting the game to single digits with two minutes remaining.
“The guys definitely fought,” Jones said. “We keep 50/50 balls, we keep that as a stat, and we won the 50/50 battle. We just turned the ball over too much and we didn’t shoot the ball well tonight. Us going 4 for 20 from the three-point line, that’s not us. Justice, 0 for 4, Connor’s going 0 for 3, and Matt 0 for 3, that’s not typical of our team. We usually shoot the ball a lot better than that.”
With Austin out against the Bruins, Jones was forced to roll out his fifth different set of starters, but the lineup he penciled in went beyond replacing his floor general.
Easily his most ambitious concoction yet, Jones rolled out Juhwan Harris-Dyson, Matt Bradley, Jacobi Gordon, Grant Anticevich and Connor Vanover. Entering play, that quintet had a combined 32 starts between them, with Harris-Dyson accounting for 20 and Gordon having never made a start.
“I just wanted to do something different,” Jones said. “The guys I started were working hard, have been giving us great things in practice, and I decided to go with that lineup.
“The guys that did start, they set a good tone for us. I think we were up 9-2 at one point. They came out, they scrapped, they fought, I think they set a really good tone for us for the game.”
That starting five only played sparingly with one another, but the most interesting development to come out of it was Bradley taking on the role of primary ball-handler.
Bradley has never been called upon to run the show — that’s mostly been Austin’s responsibility — but he held his own in his extended run as point guard.
There were some moments when Bradley’s immaturity as the primary ball-handler was exposed, but he rose to the occasion and had one of his more well-rounded games of the season, finishing with 15 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals.
“Paris got hurt so I had to step up and play the one for most of the game,” Bradley said. “At first, I was kind of having some nerves, but Paris talked to me, told me I was going to be fine, and I just went out there and played hard, tried to be mistake free. We end up not coming out with the win, but I’m not mad with the way I played.”
Rolling out with that group of starters meant no Justice Sueing, no Darius McNeill and no Andre Kelly, a trio that had started every game of this season prior to today.
Sueing’s last appearance off the bench came on Nov. 10, 2017, the first game of his career, while McNeill’s last appearance came on Nov. 12, 2017, the second game of his career.
Even with the drastically different change of pace, neither of the sophomores missed a beat on offense.
McNeill was aggressive on both ends of the floor, ending with a season-high 23 points and a career-high 7 steals while Sueing narrowly missed a second consecutive double-double with an 18-point, 9-rebound performance.
“I think they responded well,” Jones said. “Darius came in the game and gave us some energy. He was aggressive offensively, did some good things offensively, had seven steals, and Justice played a solid game as well. I don’t think it affected them at all.”
In his second game back from injury, Vanover received a healthy serving of playing time, with the 29 minutes he played tonight dwarfing his previous high of 15 minutes he set against USC.
Like many of his teammates, Vanover’s shot wasn’t falling as it usually does, missing all three three-point attempts, but he matched his career-highs in points (10) and rebounds (4).
“Honestly, I was pretty fatigued,” Vanover said. “I needed more energy, but I just decided to fight through it. I just have to get my minutes back up.”