Some games mean more than others, even if they don’t get the national spotlight or seem to be a big deal initially. Sometimes it’s just a matter of keeping the momentum going for a team on a streak, climbing over that .500 mark or boosting yourself one spot in the conference standings.
On Thursday, Cal men’s basketball travels over the mountains to take on No. 24 Colorado with the goal of improving to .500 on the season, getting a winning record in conference play and securing its first victory away from home.
This is no easy feat for the Bears, as the Buffaloes sit at 17-5 (6-3) on the season. Cal has been playing some of its best basketball lately, however, and if the team is hoping to take the next step, this is a huge opportunity to do so.
The Bears have been solid at home. They’re 10-3 at Haas Pavilion and their most recent home loss was by just five points to No. 14 Oregon. The team just played a two-week homestand where it went 2-1 and played some of its best games of the season.
On the road, however, it’s been a completely different story. Away from Haas, Cal is 0-8. Zero and eight — that’s right, every victory for the Bears has come at home. Cal’s last road outing was an embarrassing loss at UCLA in which the Bruins scored just a mere 50 points, but it didn’t matter because the Bears managed just 40 of their own.
“We need to play better away from this building for sure,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox after Saturday’s victory against Oregon State. “We have to evaluate how we travel, our routines, our mental preparation. We have to evaluate it all, but when the ball goes up it’s still the same game. It’s still five on five … one of the last things young guys do is play well away from home, but we need to play better than we have … to this point and hopefully we’ll see some progress.”
Fans are hoping this young Cal team will listen to Coach Fox and can find success on this road trip. Colorado is a very strong team, but if the Bears play how they did in their most recent three games, they can find themselves in a tight contest just as they did against the Ducks.
The Buffaloes are led by the duo of juniors McKinley Wright IV and Tyler Bey, averaging 13.4 and 13.3 points per game, respectively. Wright IV also adds on 5.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game, demonstrating how well-rounded the guard is and how hard it is to limit his game. In addition to his scoring, Bey tacks on a team-high 8.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.
Luckily for Cal, defense has been its strong suit — and two of its standout defenders, freshman Joel Brown and sophomore Matt Bradley — match up perfectly on the defensive end with Wright IV and Bey. But those aren’t the only threats the Colorado offense possesses.
Buffs guard D’Shawn Schwartz adds on 10.6 points per game, forward Evan Battey another 9.2, and forward Lucas Siewert with 8.7 more. For comparison, the Bears only have two players averaging above 8.5 points per game, guards Bradley (17.9 ppg) and Kareem South (9.7 ppg). This makes for an unpredictable Colorado offense that will be tough to slow down if Cal hopes to pull off the upset.
If there’s one thing Coach Fox and the Bears have proven they can do, however, it’s defend. This game is a big one for Cal. It might not appear to be at first glance, but it is. There’s a lot on the line: a chance to have a winning record on conference play, a chance to beat its first ranked opponent since February of last year, a chance to reach .500 on the season, and most importantly, a chance to win its first road game of the season.
Tipoff will take place Thursday at 5:00 p.m. and can be viewed on Pac-12 Networks.