There might have been a drizzle outside of Haas Pavilion on Saturday, but inside there was an absolute downpour. Saint Mary’s drained an otherworldly 10 three-pointers in an 89-77 slaughter the Bears won’t soon forget.
Cal came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, scoring 10 of the first 12 points to take an eight-point lead after four and a half minutes of play. Kareem South, coming off of two straight double-digit scoring affairs, continued to turn up the heat, hitting two threes and an outside jumper to give the Bears the early advantage. Equally impressive was Cal’s early defensive pressure, which forced the Gaels to shoot 0-5 and commit three turnovers.
Saint Mary’s called timeout with 15:19 left to play, and, as if a switch was flipped, the Gaels opened the floodgates.
Tommy Kuhse made a three-pointer to give the Gaels their first field goal, and from then on, Saint Mary’s star Malik Fitts took over. The 6’8” forward drained a staggering five out of six three-pointers, matching his season high of 21 points in the first half alone. Cal, which entered the game ranked 266th in perimeter defense, could not contain the offensive onslaught from downtown — letting the Gaels shoot 9-13 from deep before the break.
The Bears suffered the same fate on offense, struggling to find consistent shooting after South’s early streak. Cal’s leading scorer Matt Bradley came into the game averaging 17.7 points per game, but laid a goose egg for the first fourteen minutes.
He was blanketed on defense by the Gaels’ Tanner Krebs, and it wasn’t until after the 6’6” guard was subbed out with 6:46 left to play that Bradley hit his first shot off the game. Bradley finished the half shooting 1-6 in 17 minutes on the court. The first period ended with a 45-29 scoreline in favor of the Gaels.
Cal was thrown right back into the storm as the second half began, but this time with a new Gael at the center of the hurricane. Jordan Ford, the West Coast Conference’s leading point-getter, became the lifeblood of the Saint Mary’s offense — scoring 25 points in the second period on 8-12 shooting, including eight from the charity stripe.
Ford dominated defenders such as Juhwan Harris-Dyson and Joel Brown with midrange jumpers, long-range bombs and hard drives to the rack. Every time the Bears had a short burst of offense or a few defensive stops, Ford was there to dash the hope of the blue and gold faithful and bring the cheers of Haas Pavilion to a quiet murmur.
Despite their defensive woes, the Bears did not go quietly into the good night. Five minutes into the second half, coach Mark Fox, upset with the distribution of penalties, was issued his first technical foul as head coach of Cal men’s basketball.
“If there comes a point where I have to fight for my team, I will. Every single time,” Fox said when asked about the call.
Fox was not the only Bear to find a resurgence in the second period. Forward Andre Kelly shot out of the break like a cannon, scoring 20 points in the second half and finishing the game with a career-high 26 points.
“My teammates did a really good job of looking for me — I was trying to be aggressive. A lot of them were telling me, ‘Just keep attacking,’ because I was doing good,” Kelly said. “So I was just looking to be aggressive.”
While Matt Bradley’s offensive misfires continued, he transitioned to a facilitator, dishing five assists to help Kelly feast in the paint. The Saint Mary’s defense quickly adapted to the Bradley-Kelly pick and pop offense, however, leaving Cal to look for scoring elsewhere.
Enter Grant Anticevich. The 6’8” Australian brought the Berkeley crowd to an uproar late in the second half with four straight buckets, including an impressive turnaround jumper to cut the Gaels’ lead to single digits for the first time since 4:40 left to play in the first half.
Ultimately it was all for naught as the Bears struggled to contain the Gaels’ high-powered offense. Jordan Ford hit his only three of the half to extend the lead to 11, and from there foul trouble and missed offensive opportunities permanently stunted Cal’s comeback attempt.
This game represents the same problems that have plagued the Bears all season. For the third game in a row, the blue and gold were outrebounded, a common theme for a consistently undersized squad. Similarly, the team’s inability to maintain a consistent offense for 40 minutes — as evidenced by the Gaels’ 28-10 run in the final nine minutes of the first half — allowed the Gaels to build a sufficient buffer the Bears were unable to overcome.
This game marks the end of Cal’s undefeated run at home, bringing the team’s record to a mediocre 6-5.
While Fox’s squad battled hard, it wasn’t enough for the coaching staff and players’ expectations.
“Saint Mary’s shot the ball extremely well as we knew they would and we didn’t do the job defensively to slow them down,” Fox said. “Give them credit, but we battled back but we are not into moral victories, and we will never be. And so we leave here with a loss.”
Cal will face Boston College on Dec. 21 at the Chase Center in San Francisco.