Cal aims to flip script before time runs out

Josh Kahen/Staff

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False hope is a sad part of life that everyone falls for at some point. You get your hopes up because things seem to be going so great, but in the back of your mind you know it won’t last.

Cal gave everyone a sense of false hope when it started its 2019-20 campaign 4-0, and it seemed like maybe the Bears were the real deal, winning two of those games by double digits. Surprisingly, the turning point in most fans’ optimism didn’t come after the beat down Cal took from Duke, but rather when the Bears’ offense managed to put up only 54 points in a win against Prairie View A&M. And that performance was an indicator of what was yet to come.

A 4-0 start was too good to be true, just as it seemed. Since then, Cal lost four of its last five games, including an embarrassing loss Saturday to Santa Clara. Sure, the Bears have a new head coach and lost some key starters from last season, but if the team doesn’t pull it together now, it will be too late for them to dig themselves out of a hole.

Simply put, Cal can’t lose frequently to nonmajor conference opponents like the team did against San Francisco and Santa Clara last week, and the Bears will need to take a win at home against the Fresno State Bulldogs to stay on their feet early in the season.

It might seem too early to call an out of conference matchup with a Mountain West opponent a must-win situation. Conference play is more than three weeks away and Fresno State only has two wins. But that’s exactly why this early test will foreshadow the rest of Cal’s season.

Were the losses against San Francisco and Santa Clara simply flukes, or is Cal trending back in the direction of last season when the Bears didn’t win a single game for nearly two months straight? It might seem like an exaggeration, especially considering that the Dons and Broncos both boast solid records, but again, Cal should be beating, or at least keeping up with, nonmajor conference teams.

The Bears have to come out hungry against the Bulldogs and the offense must turn its play around. Cal shot a dreadful 14 for 49 from the field against Santa Clara, and poor shooting performances like this will never equate to wins.

Sophomore guard Matt Bradley leads the team in scoring with 17.1 points per game on 46% shooting, but the Bears will need more players to step up and help out on the offensive end in order to bring up their 65.2 points per game, which currently ranks 297th in the NCAA.

Although the upcoming bout seems like an easy opportunity for Cal to bounce back, Fresno State’s record is a bit deceiving, as half of the Bulldogs’ losses came in overtime. Fresno State also averages 5 points per game more than Cal and the two sides match up fairly evenly in most statistical categories.

If the Bears want to find their purpose this season, this game and the rest of nonconference play will be the perfect chance to do so. Will Cal go back to the shocking, winning start it had and make the NCAA tournament, or will it go back to its ways of a year ago and be the forgotten team in the Pac-12?

Cal will host Fresno State on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., streamed on the Pac-12 Networks.

Jack Whaley covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @_jackdouglas_.