UCLA dominated Cal for its seventh consecutive victory over the Golden Bears, claiming the contest 76-56. The story of the game for the Bruins was guard Tyger Campbell. The redshirt sophomore picked apart the Bears’ defense with both his scoring and facilitating, finishing the night with 11 points, 12 assists and only one turnover. Meanwhile, senior guard Chris Smith scored a game-high 21 points.
Both teams opened the game with a turnover but tried to regain their footing early. Cal and UCLA each made their first two shots to notch it at 5 points apiece. However, the Bears’ offensive flow did not last, as they only scored 4 points over the next four minutes.
Cal’s struggles extended to the defensive end as well. During this cold shooting period, the Bruins carved up the Bears’ defense, drawing up multiple cuts to produce easy scores, including a dunk by Smith. After a strong defensive effort against a top Arizona State offense in its last game, it was uncharacteristic to see Cal show such little resistance.
The Bears scored their 11th point on a layup by sophomore guard Dimitrios Klonaras. Cal proceeded to go scoreless for nearly the next seven minutes. The Bruins knocked down threes with ease while the Bears missed layups. UCLA shot an impressive 88% through nearly the first 10 minutes. The Bears quickly found themselves down 26-11 and their offensive struggles to have seemingly no end in sight. The Bruins kept coming and went up by as many as 21 in the first half. UCLA got whatever it wanted, whether it was from outside or inside.
Cal looked lost defensively and couldn’t catch a break even when the Bruins made mistakes. On one play, UCLA overthrew a pass but still managed to recover it and bounce the ball off of a Cal player before it rolled out of bounds. The Bruins’ first-half offense was nothing shy of perfection, as they shot more than 69% from the field and 75% from deep. The first period ended with a 40-22 lead for UCLA, and Cal head coach Mark Fox was visibly frustrated, throwing a basketball on his way to the locker room.
The second period was much more even to start, as both teams scored with ease. Campbell did his best Chris Paul impression, throwing multiple alley-oops to redshirt junior forward Jalen Hill. The Bears seemed to play defense with more urgency in the second half, holding the Bruins to only 11 points in the first 7:43 of the period. Junior guard Matt Bradley hit a three to cut the UCLA lead to 14 with just more than 12 minutes remaining, but his triple was canceled out on the very next play when Smith converted an and-one layup over Bradley. For Cal, Bradley checked out of the game with under 12 minutes to play and never returned.
“We started crawling back in it, and (Bradley) was not having one of his better nights, and he’s been a good player,” Fox said. “We’ll see good moments from him again, I’m sure, but it just felt like those other guys were battling, and until we got really back in it, I wanted to give those kids a chance.”
The closest Fox’s squad would get since the opening minutes was when Joel Brown made his own and-one layup to cut the lead to 12. The Bruins’ scoring ease was perhaps best demonstrated by the dunk disparity between the two teams: UCLA had five dunks to Cal’s one. The Bears’ second-half effort was night and day from its performance in the first period, but it was too little, too late. The Bruins finished with their foot on the gas pedal, ballooning the lead to 20 before the final buzzer sounded.
After a promising showing against Arizona State, Cal could not find the same success in Westwood. On nights like Sunday when their shot isn’t falling, the Bears will have to grind out victories through defensive play. That did not happen Sunday, so it will be back to the drawing board for Fox and his team before their upcoming showdown against Pepperdine.
Tom Aizenberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].