Thanksgiving is always one of the best times of the year. The beauty of fall is all around, the food is delicious and we get to spend time with family and friends. For a moment, everything is right with the world. So what could possibly make this Thanksgiving even better? Try a basketball game.
Cal will play its second game of the 2020-21 season against Northwest at 3 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, marking the first time that the blue and gold have ever faced off against the Eagles. This will be counted as an exhibition game. Cal is coming off a 71-63 loss to Oregon State, in which the Bears struggled mightily on both ends of the floor, shooting only 39.7% from the field and an abysmal 24% from three, while the Beavers were able to shoot lights out. Cal will have to play much better defense and have some more lucky bounces to win its Thanksgiving matchup.
Historically, Cal has not fared well in the second halves of back-to-back games and in games away from Haas Pavilion. The Bears haven’t won the second half of a back-to-back since 2017, and the blue and gold haven’t been 0.500 or above on the road since the 2016-17 season. Cal went 1-10 on away games last season, but the Bears may take solace in the fact that their Thanksgiving Day matchup will be played at a neutral site, where they fared a 1-3 record this past season.
Junior star guard Matt Bradley will look to bounce back from his poor performance against Oregon State. After scoring 21 points on 16 shot attempts, he struggled with his outside shot, making only one of his seven attempts. Bradley should be able to improve his performance if he just doesn’t force his shot as much as he did against OSU. And there is reason for optimism: Bradley is coming off his best season to date, averaging 17.5 points per game on career-high field goal and free throw percentages last season. He even ranked sixth in scoring among all players in the Pac-12 with an average of 16 points per game.
After winning just 16 cumulative games across the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, the Bears shocked the nation with 14 wins in their 2019-20 campaign and will look to carry that momentum into this season.
The Northwest Eagles are coming off a strong 18-12 season in the NAIA and will be desperate for a win against a rare Division I opponent. Coming off a loss, head coach Mark Fox and the rest of the team should play with the same urgency to give themselves the best chance to win. Ultimately, Cal should be favored to prevail, despite its history with neutral sites and its poor showing in the season opener Wednesday.
For the blue and gold to get their first win of the season, someone besides Bradley will need to step up to the plate. This is made even more difficult by the absence of Jarred Hyder, a sophomore transfer from Fresno State who had his eligibility waiver denied by the NCAA. Could senior forward Grant Anticevich be the one? He led the Bears in rebounding last season with an average of 5.6 and is the team’s sole fourth-year senior.
Win or lose, college basketball returning, specifically Cal basketball, will bring some needed excitement to 2020. The Bears’ game against the Eagles will air on the Pac-12 Network on Thursday at 3 p.m.
Tom Aizenberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].