Cal men’s basketball starts season with upset win over Pepperdine

Josh Kahen/Staff

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For the first time since Nov. 20, 2017, Cal men’s basketball has a winning record. Sophomores Matt Bradley and Andre Kelly led the Bears to an 87-71 win over the Pepperdine Waves to clinch the first season openers of their young careers, and newly appointed head coach Mark Fox earned his first victory.

“I just wanted to win. I wanted to win the first one at home, and you know, I wasn’t really thinking about scoring. I wasn’t really thinking about anything else,” Bradley said. “I just wanted to win, and when you think about that, you just automatically play hard, and I felt like that’s what I did.”

As the Bears took their positions for the tipoff, there was a familiar face missing from the lineup. Senior guard Paris Austin, a longtime starter for the Bears, was replaced by freshman Joel Brown. Brown also scored the first points of the season for Cal with a floater that put the Bears up just 1:40 into the contest.

“I just think that we’re going to have kind of some lineups that’ll be constantly changing — matchup driven,” Fox said.

The first half was anybody’s game. Both teams played even until a 9-2 run from Cal put it in the lead 18-13, but Pepperdine responded to tie it up at 22 apiece. The Waves slowly built a lead for the rest of the half that peaked at seven points, but the Bears were able to erode some of that to end the half down 35-37.

The second half was when Cal really shined. Shots were raining in by every player and misses were few and far between. Kelly and Austin created an 11-0 run for the Bears, and then Bradley put the Bears out of reach by sinking two straight 3-pointers. The Waves were never able to recover in the final 10 minutes, and Cal cruised to the 16-point victory.

Austin, despite not starting, played nearly 28 minutes, finished with 14 points and had the highest point differential on the team with +19.

“Paris Austin played really hard; he attacked the rim, which opened up shots from the outside. Defensively, he played really well. He just was a captain on the floor; he made sure everyone was composed. … he’s a big part of why we won,” Bradley said. “It makes it a lot easier for all of us to play our games. So when he’s distributing, facilitating and playing his game, he makes it a lot easier.”

In the second half, Cal shot a ridiculous 71% from the field on 28 attempts, making six of eight 3-pointers. Bradley was 8-11 from the field for a career-high 25 points and tied his career-high five 3-pointers. Kelly was second in scoring on the team with 16 points and tied his career-high in rebounds with 10 to finish the game with a double-double.

“I’m really proud of our players. I’m really happy for our players and our team, but I’m really proud of these young guys for buying into our vision,” Fox said. “We have worked them extremely hard, and when you demand that much of somebody, you know as the coach, it needs to work out. So they’ll do it again and do it some more, but the players made all the plays, and these kids deserve a lot of credit for really playing super hard tonight and beating a very good Pepperdine team.”

Heading into this game, Pepperdine was favored by two points over Cal. Starting the season with a strong win and showing the Cal faithful that the team is able to make adjustments after halftime is a good sign for the Bears. The fact that they can fight through a tough game and come out on top should be enough to give Cal fans some hope, especially after the disaster of the last two seasons.

Trilok Reddy covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].