Hearing that Cal men’s basketball is favored in a matchup may be shocking, even for a midmajor opponent. This is the case, however, as the Bears host the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels on Tuesday in their second game of the season.
After a dominant second half, Cal was able to secure a 87-71 win over Pepperdine on Nov. 5. Matt Bradley and Andre Kelly had career nights for the Bears, and the team as a whole shot more than 71% from the field in the second half and 54% total. It was also the first season opener that Cal won since 2016.
“I think, to say the least, it was just toughness,” Bradley said. “I feel like we played a lot harder, we were really locked down defensively. When times were getting close, and it was about the end of the game, we just really stuck it out and just played really hard.”
On Tuesday, Nov. 12, we get to see if the stellar performance was a one-time event or if the team can continue its efficient production against another midmajor foe. Cal is 2-5 all-time against UNLV but came out on top the last time the teams faced off in 2013 during the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The Runnin’ Rebels are currently 0-1 after losing 56-60 in overtime to Kansas State at home. UNLV also beat Purdue University Fort Wayne in an exhibition game in October. Amauri Hardy, a starting junior guard for UNLV, scored 27 points for the Runnin’ Rebels while shooting 50% from the 3-point line against Kansas State.
In each game the Bears take the court, a guard from the opposing team has managed to exploit the Cal defense. Against Saint Martin’s, Alex Schumacher shot 8-11 for 21 points while only playing 26 minutes, and Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross scored 19 on the Bears after he was gifted seven free throws. Both players led their teams in scoring.
The key to this game for the Bears will be if they can contain Hardy and limit his scoring while not sending him to the line too often — of Hardy’s 27 points against Kansas State, none came from free throws.
One missing piece for Cal against Pepperdine was Lars Thiemann. He had a strong showing in the exhibition game, shooting 4-4 for nine points and had four blocks. In the season opener, however, he was nowhere to be seen. He started at center for the Bears but only played 11 minutes, shot 0-1 and only had two rebounds.
Cal will need every player, and especially one with the ability to grab rebounds and block shots, to have a convincing win against UNLV.
Kareem South had a slower game against Pepperdine than he did against Saint Martin’s, but he still proved valuable to the rebuilding Bears, shooting 5-10 for 14 points. He is a much-needed piece for Cal and played almost 36 minutes against Pepperdine.
If everything falls together just right then Cal should be able to take this game and start 2-0 for the first time since 2016.
“It feels good, I’m just ready for the next game,” Bradley said. “Yeah, I’m looking forward to this season, just what our guys have to bring, and we’re going to just keep competing.”
Trilok Reddy covers men’s basketball. Contact him at