Oregon State bounces Cal in men’s basketball season opener

Men's Basketball at Cal
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After many hurdles this fall, including only returning to the court in mid-October, positive COVID-19 tests within the program and last-minute cancellations, Cal men’s basketball made it to the first tipoff of the season Wednesday against Oregon State. Wednesday’s challenge was the familiar struggle of playing on the road, but the Bears couldn’t overcome this one as they fell 63-71 against the Beavers.

Both teams looked like they were shaking off some rust and shot only 1 for 4 from the field to start, but the Beavers found their rhythm first, and a pair of threes gave them an early 12-6 lead. Cal junior forward Andre Kelly, who didn’t start, had an immediate impact on the court, scoring 4 points and notching two rebounds in quick succession.

“We started the game poorly offensively just because we were so excited to play that I don’t think we were ever organized,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox. “Defensively, I thought we gave extra effort once we got down double figures — you’ve got to give those extra efforts the whole time.”

Cal wasn’t playing sloppily, but the Bears were struggling beyond the arc and missed their first five attempts until graduate transfer Ryan Betley drained a three for his first points as a Bear and quickly followed it up with another. Star junior Matt Bradley started only 1 for 6 from the field, but he managed to draw a charge and sink four free throws to give Cal a 20-18 lead.

Oregon State responded with a 9-0 run led by juniors Maurice Calloo and Warith Alatishe, but a pair of steals by Cal’s Joel Brown, which turned into 4 points, kept Cal in the game.

Despite trailing 31-36 at the break, the Bears had plenty of positives. They limited their turnovers — a glaring issue last season — to just six, which the Beavers were only able to turn into 3 points. Oregon State, on the other hand, had nine turnovers, which Cal turned into 16 points. The Bears also had five steals to the Beavers’ one, but their lack of practice with defenders was evident in their shooting percentages, as the Bears shot 12 for 30 from the field and 3 for 11 beyond the arc.

The start of the second half was all Oregon State, as the team stretched its lead to 13. Cal committed a few turnovers right off the bat and couldn’t get a 3-pointer to land, even the wide-open ones. In the first five minutes of the half, Bradley scored every point for the Bears.

Graduate transfer Makale Foreman took advantage of a nine-shot slump from the Beavers and dragged the Bears back into the game with a couple of baskets and a steal that turned into a Kelly layup. However, Oregon State wasn’t going to let go that easily and spread the ball around to create an 8-0 run and give the Beavers a 57-43 lead. The Bears also dug themselves deeper into the hole by putting their opponents in the bonus with 7:30 left in the second half.

Some buckets by the graduate transfers and three made free throws from Bradley put Cal within striking distance, down only 5 with just more than a minute left, but a pair of missed threes sealed the win for Oregon State.

“They’re both good players. They shot the ball really well. I think they’re going to be guys that make an impact on our team,” Fox said about graduate transfers Betley and Foreman. “As they get comfortable playing in a new system, they’re just going to get better and better.”

The expected star of Oregon State, senior Ethan Thompson, struggled from the field, shooting only 6 for 17 with three turnovers, but Alatishe picked up the slack, finishing an incredible 7 for 10 from the field, hauling in eight rebounds and tossing dimes during fast breaks.

Cal finished the game shooting 6 for 25 from three, and if Betley isn’t included, that falls to a meager 3 for 19. While Bradley scored 21 points, he similarly struggled with his shooting and relied on 11 free throw attempts to supplement his scoring. The Bears’ lack of practice, especially full-contact practices with defenders, clearly showed against the Beavers. Cal will need to find its shooting rhythm by the time conference play begins in just more than a week if it wants to improve upon last season.

“If we just make our layups in the first half, we win the game,” Fox said. “We missed a lot of easy shots.”

Trilok Reddy covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].