Cal struggles in victory over UC Davis

Josh Kahen/Staff

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  1. Blowing an 18-point lead at home against a 2-6 team is typically not the sign of a strong team. Cal men’s basketball did just that against UC Davis, but the Bears were able to fight back and eventually win 72-66, improving to 5-2 for the season.

With a chip on their shoulder from going winless in the 2K Empire Classic last week, Kareem South and Matt Bradley returned to Haas Pavilion on fire. In the first half, they shot a combined 9 of 10 for 22 points, including 4-5 from three. After less than stellar performances against Duke and Texas, it seemed like they could not miss as the duo combined for more than half of Cal’s points in the first period of play.

“I think the lesson from the trip to New York was whether you win the game or lose the game,

you have to learn from the game,” said head coach Mark Fox. “Just like tonight, we have to learn from our performance. It’s important to do that if you’re going to keep growing.”

The Bears also had a strong performance defensively in the first half, outrebounding the Aggies 19 to 10. UC Davis also was held to 31% shooting and only had 25 points at the buzzer. Heading into the locker room, however, Cal had begun to show signs of weakness, giving up a 9-2 run to finish 36-25.

“I think it’s about us as players needing to lock in,” said senior guard Paris Austin. “In any game, there are times when other teams make runs and people can get discouraged; we just need to stay together, stay motivated and play through it.”

Usually a strong second-half team, everything fell apart for the Bears after the break. The Aggies were clawing their way back, always staying just close enough to be a threat. Panic began to set in and Cal started shooting more jumpers and driving to the basket less. In one possession, three different players attempted 3-pointers and all missed.

With fewer than 10 minutes on the clock, UC Davis took its first lead of the game 49-48. After a few lead changes, some of the more experienced members of the team, including Bradley and Austin, took charge, giving the Bears some breathing room.

“That was a big momentum play for us,” Austin said. “The bench and my teammates’ energy helped us remain motivated on defense.”

Grant Anticevich also took some of the shooting responsibility late in the game, earning 10 of his 13 points in the second half. He finished with a double-double, including a career-high 11 rebounds.

Cal finished the game shooting nearly 59% from the field and more than 50% from three. The Bears’ biggest struggle was turnovers and they ended the game with 15 — more than three times the number of UC Davis turnovers.

“In the second half, we played with the most dangerous thing that you can play against — good 3-point shooting. Give UC Davis credit for making eight threes in the second half and storming back,” Fox said. “In hindsight … we got more out of the finish of that game than we would have if we had kept a double-figure lead the whole time.”

The Bears remain a perfect 5-0 at home this season after the win against the Aggies, but Cal will travel to its next two games at San Francisco and Santa Clara. The Bears have proven that they can start and finish a game strong, but they have not shown that they can play the full 40 minutes at a high level. Cal should not have struggled against UC Davis, and blowing an 18-point lead may bring questions about its consistency.

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