A college basketball game takes at least 40 minutes of action to decide a winner. But sometimes, the first few can set the tone for the remainder of the contest. Just ask the Cal men’s basketball team (10-15, 4-8) after coming out on the wrong end of an 80-75 loss to Arizona State (17-8, 8-4).
Matt Bradley stood his ground, took the contact from Arizona State forward Kimani Lawrence, and fell backwards. As Bradley’s teammates quickly jumped up off the bench and pointed in the opposite direction — hoping for an offensive foul call — the whistle blew.
Count the basket.
The charge-turned-block became Bradley’s second foul at the 18:45 mark of the first half, just 75 seconds into the game. Disbelief over the call quickly flushed Bradley’s face, mirroring that of the Orlando Magic’s Aaron Gordon, just seconds after a controversial judges decision in Saturday’s NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
A bad break here and a turnover there made all the difference in a tightly contested shootout between Arizona State and Cal, one which culminated in a late battle between a pair of star guards. As hot as Bradley got in the latter 20 minutes of the contest, there was little stopping the budding star that is Remy Martin.
“I feel like we did a good job of defending him at the end of the game,” said Cal guard Paris Austin of Martin. “But that’s what good players do. He made some big shots.”
Whether it was a deep three or a step back from midrange, Martin needed every bit of his playmaking ability to extend the Sun Devils’ current win streak to five. With Grant Anticevich and Alonzo Verge Jr. also catching fire offensively, five versus five quickly devolved into two versus two, with a late burst from Austin also keeping the Bears close.
While Cal pushed its visitors from the south to its limit, key buckets from ASU’s one-two punch of Verge Jr. and Martin sent the Bears packing to their fourth straight loss, despite Cal scoring well above its 54-point average across its previous three losses.
“I think it came down to stops,” Austin said. “I mean the last maybe six minutes of the game, they made some really big plays, big threes. It just came down to defense.”
The Sun Devils held a single-digit lead down the stretch, and it was the Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate Martin who put the game into his own hands, scoring 15 of his 22 points in the second half, converting from anywhere and everywhere — 7-10 overall, 3-3 from deep, 5-6 from the line.
It was Martin’s ninth conference game with at least 20 points.
With Verge Jr. pouring in 22 of his own off the bench, including 10 -11 on free throws, there simply wasn’t enough blue and gold offense to keep pace with one of the more explosive team’s in the conference.
Early foul trouble didn’t slow Bradley down in the second half, as the sophomore guard splashed home four threes, scoring 20 second half points before fouling out. Anticevich, who played 35 minutes a few nights after not starting the second half against Arizona, scored 14 of his 18 points in the opening frame, holding down the fort while Bradley watched from the sidelines.
“We’re asking Grant to do a lot,” said head coach Mark Fox of Anticevich’s bounce-back performance. “I think Grant has handled it all really well, and tonight he came back. It was good to see him have a pretty good night.”
In an effort to slow down ASU’s fluid offense, Fox opted to start freshman guard Joel Brown instead of graduate transfer Kareem South, the first time South didn’t start a game in his lone season with the Bears.
“We just felt like our matchups were going to be better with the way we started the game,” Fox said. “And then that plan went out the window as soon as Matt got in foul trouble.”
With the ASU contingent in Haas Pavilion chanting “Remy!” in the closing seconds and aftermath of the game, the Bears could only watch as another competitive contest fell just a few plays short of victory.
While Martin may have won this round with Bradley, Cal’s star shooting guard received a well-deserved endorsement from his teammate when it was all said and done.
“Matt’s a warrior,” Austin said. “I’ll pick him on my team anytime.”