“And now you’re just padding stats” is not usually something you hear from basketball commentators, let alone with more than three minutes left in the first half. That’s exactly what No. 1 Duke was doing Thursday night, however, as it obliterated Cal men’s basketball 87-52.
The semifinals of the 2K Empire Classic began with an upset as Georgetown defeated No. 22 Texas in the first game of the night. Cal was aiming to bring a second upset to Madison Square Garden as it faced No. 1 Duke as the heavy underdogs. No one was expecting the Bears to win; the spread was even at -19 for the Blue Devils but the complete dominance that Duke showed surprised everyone.
It looked as though Cal was outmatched in every facet of the game. The Blue Devils had better coaching, were more athletic, more accurate at shooting and on another tier defensively. At one point, after a media timeout, the Bears failed to inbound the ball and were forced to call a timeout of their own. Even with this extra time, Cal head coach Mark Fox was unable to draw up a successful inbound play and the attempt ended in a turnover.
Early in the game, the Bears took an 8-6 lead, but the Blue Devils responded with a 17-3 run and never let up. Duke was beating Cal on nearly every play. The Blue Devils were better at rebounding and defense and played an overall more physical game that the Bears were not able to keep up with — even when Duke’s offense was struggling.
Freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. had an impressive game and almost singlehandedly defeated Cal. At halftime, Carey Jr. himself matched the Bears’ total points at 21 and by the end of the game, Carey had more points, rebounds and blocks than all of Cal’s starting five combined. He ended the game with a double-double of 31 points and 12 rebounds in only 23 minutes.
Cal’s atrocious offense shot 19 of 52 and was rarely able to make layups as Duke locked down the rim. Tre Jones was a defensive presence as predicted, holding the Bears point guard Paris Austin to 1 of 8 shooting. Not a single Cal player broke into the double digits in points, assists or rebounds.
The Blue Devils out-rebounded the Bears by an impressive margin of 50 to 28, but the worst part of Cal’s game was the 27 personal fouls committed that gifted 31 free-throw attempts to Duke. Freshman center Lars Thiemann fouled out with 10 minutes left in the game and Matt Bradley and Andre Kelly had four fouls apiece.
Cal returns to Madison Square Garden today for the consolation match against No. 22 Texas at 2:00 p.m. PST. The Bears lost the last matchup against the Longhorns when then No. 10 Texas won 71-55 in 2014, but yesterday the Longhorns had an equally poor performance. Texas shot only 23 of 61 from the field and committed 25 personal fouls in their 66-82 loss to Georgetown.
Trilok Reddy covers men’s basketball. Contact him at