Cal aims for 1st road win at San Francisco

Josh Kahen/Staff

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Most teams have to travel much farther than 16 miles for their first away game. Fortunately for Cal men’s basketball, the team will only make the short trip across the Bay on Wednesday to San Francisco, as it faces the Dons and seeks a first win away from Haas Pavilion.

The Bears have started the season with a perfect 5-0 at home — a feat they have not accomplished since they started 8-0 in 2016. Cal’s only two losses this season come from Duke and Texas in the 2K Empire Classic, which was played on a neutral court. This makes the Bears’ upcoming game their first true away game since they defeated Stanford back in March of this year.

Cal has won two of the last three games against San Francisco, but those have all been in Berkeley. The last time the Bears played at San Francisco resulted in a loss in 1997, and they last won in 1995.

Last season, 7-1 San Francisco came to the East Bay and routed Cal 79-60. Despite coming off of a loss to No.17 Buffalo in Ireland, the Dons were able to recover enough to soundly defeat the Bears. San Francisco created an early 13-0 run to put Cal down, but it was the Dons’ rebounding ability that kept the Bears out, as they notched an impressive 40 rebounds, including 14 offensive rebounds, which gave Cal no opportunity to sniff a comeback.

Once again, a 7-1 San Francisco team enters the week after a tough loss Friday when the Dons fell 75-85 to Hawaii in their only loss of the season. They also return most of their scoring from last year’s win against the Bears. Last year, Charles Minlend, Jimbo Lull and Jordan Ratinho were the three leading scorers in the matchup with Cal, combining for 43 points, and all will be shooting for similar performances this week.

Those three players join Jamaree Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz in averaging double-digit points for San Francisco this season. Minlend and Bouyea lead the high-powered offense with more than 15 points per game. The Dons’ offensive prowess has led them to a 7-1 record and an 87 points per game average —  third-best in the nation.

On paper, this game is set to be a repeat of last year’s one-sided contest. The Bears have been a team defined by streaks of scoring followed by giving up huge scoring runs. Just last week, UC Davis, a team with notoriously bad scoring ability, was able to put up a 13-0 run on Cal. Although the Bears ended up winning that game, they have consistently given up large runs to mediocre teams and had to dig themselves out of a hole as a result.

“We need to play a full 40 minutes,” said Cal junior Grant Anticevich. “We’re getting better at that every game: competing and playing hard from start to finish.”

On the other side, Matt Bradley is the only player for Cal averaging double-digit scoring this season with more than 18 points a game. Bradley is supported by Kareem South, Paris Austin and Anticevich, who have proven they do not shy away from a challenge. In many of the Bears’ close games this season, one of those veteran players has stepped up and given Cal the boost it needed to clinch the game.

The Bears biggest struggle on defense has been securing rebounds. Cal’s opponents have pulled down more offensive rebounds than the Bears in every one of their games this season.

The Bears’ biggest struggle on defense has been securing rebounds. Cal’s opponents have pulled down more offensive rebounds than the Bears have in every one of their games this season. Cal’s inability to secure its own rim is likely a contributing factor in its tendency to give up long scoring runs.

Lars Thiemann, a 7-foot freshman center, is only averaging 2.1 rebounds a game despite starting for the Bears and playing an average of more than 16 minutes per game. He did hit his career-high of five rebounds last week against UC Davis, but he will need to improve dramatically for Cal to have a chance to defeat high-scoring teams such as San Francisco.

With Cal facing a team that is 36th in the nation in offensive efficiency, however, the defense will be its only hope of coming away with a win. The Bears need to play a consistent game from start to finish, not get beat in the rebounding game and, above all, keep the Dons from getting hot.

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