Cal falls to Arizona State despite defensive showcase

Cal Men's Basketball
Josh Kahen/Senior Staff

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Sometimes it’s nice when things turn out as expected — the familiarity can provide a sense of comfort. For fans of Cal men’s basketball, however, the familiar thing probably wasn’t so comforting as the Bears made it six straight losses to Arizona State. Despite a good showing from the blue and gold, the Sun Devils started the Pac-12 season with a 70-62 win.

“Our team showed that we’ve improved,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox. “We played a terrific opponent, and it was a really competitive game — a game that we knew we needed to play fairly mistake-free to have a chance to win.”

The game started in peak Pac-12 fashion with two missed 3-pointers and a pair of turnovers. Arizona State’s Jalen Graham drew first blood with a hook shot jumper, but Andre Kelly made a hustle play to set up a Makale Foreman three and give Cal the early lead. The Sun Devils quickly retook the lead, but the Bears were doing what they needed to do: force Arizona State to play at their pace.

Both teams were quick to rack up turnovers, but Cal’s defense was holding up against one of the nation’s top offenses. After eight minutes of play, the score stood at 7-7 before Ryan Betley hit an off-balance jumper to give the Bears a 9-7 lead. The pace of the game was so slow that shortly after, both teams had five turnovers but only three made baskets.

“It just comes down to experience; they’re an experienced team,” Betley said. “Being a new team and having a lot of new pieces, that’s on us. We’re learning how to win right now. It’s a learning process, but I believe in our guys — we have a great unit.”

Cal’s star junior guard Matt Bradley showcased his talent by going toe-to-toe with former five-star recruit and projected first-round pick Josh Christopher, as they combined for 23 points by the half. A couple of late baskets also propelled Arizona State’s Remy Martin into the double-digit points club, as he finished 4 for 4 from the field in the first period.

The first half ended with a 35-34 Sun Devil lead, but the Bears played their best half of basketball this year. The blue and gold shot 40% from beyond the arc and hauled in 18 rebounds to Arizona State’s 12.

Once again, turnovers proved to be a problem for Cal, but in a slightly unusual way. While the Bears had 10 turnovers in the first half, their biggest problem was that they were only able to turn eight Sun Devil turnovers into 3 points.

The second half started faster with Martin carrying on his momentum from the end of the first half as Arizona State built a 6-point lead, the largest of the game to that point.

“Remy Martin was just terrific,” Fox said. “He controlled the game and led his team to victory.”

Eventually, Cal’s defense stepped up, as Bradley turned a steal into a 3-point play to swing the momentum back to Cal. Unfortunately for the Bears, it swung right back, as the Sun Devils started a full-court press on defense, which shut down the blue and gold offense.

Arizona State kept building its lead until it put Cal in the bonus with just under 10 minutes left. A Bradley layup from a turnover and a Grant Anticevich putback capped off a 7-0 run and put the Bears within 1 point, down only 54-53.

With less than two minutes left, disaster struck as Marcus Bagley, Arizona State’s other star freshman, went down with an injury and had to be helped off the court. The calf injury is not expected to be “catastrophic,” but he will be evaluated tomorrow.

The game ended in a Cal collapse all too familiar for those who follow the team — excessive turnovers resulted in no made baskets during the last 3:30 of the game. After such a close game, Arizona State cruised through the last few possessions to walk away with a 70-62 win.

“I look at tonight like we’ve shown that we’ve grown as a team, we’ve battled hard,” Fox said. “We made too many errors that cost us a chance to win, but we did a lot of things that, if we can repeat them, will give us a chance to win.”

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