Repeating last year, Cal men’s hoops shocks Pac-12 with huge upset

Josh Kahen/Staff

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Exactly one year ago Cal men’s basketball took down then-No. 25 Washington 76-73 at home, stunning the Pac-12 and college hoops fans around the country. On Thursday, the Bears did it again, upsetting No. 21 Colorado with a 76-62 victory at home.

The night started off as unexpected as it finished, with Cal freshmen D.J. Thorpe and Kuany Kuany getting their first career starts. It was a significant change, as Cal head coach Mark Fox tried to spark some life into a team with a losing record and only four games left in the season.

“A couple times a year your team just looks like zombies and those kids just kept battling and my gut was telling me the last couple days let me reward them for how hard they played in Seattle. Let me start them. Let me give them a taste of it,” Fox said of starting the freshman duo. “They knew that they wouldn’t be out there long, and I thought they both handled it very very well and they got us off to a really good start.”

It didn’t take long for Kuany to make an impact as he buried a corner three just under a minute and a half into the game. Cal got off to a solid 7-0 run in the first 2:30, but it didn’t take Colorado long to recover, as it tied things up at 15 with over 11 minutes left in the half. Guard McKinley Wright IV got off to a hot start for the Buffaloes, shooting 4-4 with eight points less than nine minutes into the game.

Kareem South has a similar start for the Bears, scoring six points on 3-3 shooting in his first four minutes of action off the bench — including a steal and tough transition layup.

Cal and Colorado were lights out from deep early on, as both sides shot 3-4 from behind the arc with just more than 12 minutes played in the game. Guard Matt Bradley had a pair of threes for the Bears and forward Lucas Siewert had two of his own for the Buffs, as both players brought the crowd in and out of the game.

But with 7:22 left in the half, Bradley separated himself by hitting a huge and-one shot from beyond the arc. He proceeded to convert the four-point play to give Cal a five point lead and all of the momentum. The sophomore guard hit the bench for just over a minute and when he came back out, drilled yet another three-pointer. Bradley was 4-4 from behind the arc with five minutes left to play in the first half and 15 points to his name already.

Bradley’s astounding first half performance gave the Bears a 38-26 halftime lead over the No. 2 team in the Pac-12, one that they would have to hang onto for just 20 more minutes.

Colorado’s three-point shooting fell off towards the end of the first period, as they ended 3-9 from behind the stripe after starting 3-4. Cal, however, was consistent from deep and went into halftime 6-10 from three. Another cornerstone for the blue and gold was their ability to score the ball — they only turned the ball over three times in the first half.

The second half started off extremely contentious with neither team able to go on a run and gain momentum; the two sides were trading buckets left and right. With just over eight minutes gone in the half, the Bears still had a double-digit lead, 47-37.

But eventually the back and forth subsided and Cal went on a run and never looked back. A layup from forward Grant Anticevich sparked a 9-0 run over the span of just over two minutes for the Bears, and they extended their lead to 16 with nine minutes to play. Bradley hit a three on this run that boosted his scoring total to 24, breaking alumnus Justin Cobbs’ previous record of 22 points against the Buffaloes in 2013. Bradley finished with 26 points, tying his career high.

The teams would continue to trade buckets until the final horn, both sides caught up in what became a defensive battle late in the game. The Buffs opted to run a full-court press late in the game, but the Bears had minimal problems breaking it down and maintaining possession.

The blue and gold held onto the lead they created in the first half and came out on top 76-62. Paris Austin finished with 12 points and South added 19 of his own — a return to form for a player who failed to score in the double digits since Jan. 31.

“It’s kind of been a rough stretch but, for me, I’m just trying to take it one game at a time and trust coaches plan — trust the process,” South said of his bounce-back performance.

The real difference in this game was the Bears’ ability to hit the three and score off of the Buffaloes’ mistakes. Cal shot 45% from deep compared to Colorado’s 21%, and had 21 points off turnovers to Colorado’s five. Cal also had its highest scoring game in conference play this year with 76 points, a huge offensive outing for a team that has struggled to score all season.

The Bears will host Utah on Saturday for their final home game of the season.

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