A team reeling after three straight losses, Cal was desperate for a win. Late Sunday afternoon, it didn’t appear that win would be coming on this day. But there’s a reason coaches emphasize playing until the final buzzer.
Down 3 with just more than 30 seconds remaining, Cal guard Matt Bradley had the ball. He drove in and found forward Andre Kelly near the rim, who put in a tough layup. Suddenly, it was a 1-point game with 15 seconds remaining. The Bears went for the steal as the Dons played keep-away. Seven seconds were shaved off before Cal fouled Khalil Shabazz, an 86% free throw shooter on the season who made each of his five attempts up to this point. The game appeared all but over.
Yet in a shocking turn of events, Shabazz missed his free throw. Down 1 point with only seconds remaining, the Bears turned to Bradley to take them home. The junior guard tried to get to the basket but found himself double-teamed and was forced to defer to senior Grant Anticevich. Anticevich then spotted newcomer Makale Foreman open 25 feet from the basket. With no time remaining, Foreman drained a three for the win and ran down the court in celebration. If you don’t like that, you don’t like Cal basketball.
“Our resiliency showed, and obviously, to win the game like we did, that’s one of the magical parts of college basketball,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox.
Foreman was 0 for 6 from three before the game-winner, but his confidence was never in doubt. Cal was led by forwards Anticevich and Kelly in the first half, as they combined for 26 of the Bears’ 29 first-half points. They combined to shoot 10 for 14 from the field, while the rest of the team shot an abysmal 1 for 15.
The Dons started off hot, making their first five shots. But USF was just as in sync on the defensive side. Its defense was stifling: The Bears struggled to get off good looks, shooting just 1 for 8 to start the game. For the Dons, everything was going their way early. Splashing threes from outside and getting free throws in the paint, the Dons could do no wrong. Fewer than eight minutes in, Cal was down 17-5 with more turnovers than made field goals, and USF was in complete control.
The Bears’ offense kept up with the Dons after their terrible start to the game, however, converting on three of their next six shots to make the score 21-11. But it would still be an uphill battle the rest of the way. Anticevich did his best Kobe Bryant impression as he made a tough fadeaway on the baseline to cut the lead to 8.
After initially trailing 17-5, Cal finished the period on a 24-17 run to cut the lead to 5 before USF senior guard Jamaree Bouyea made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Unfortunately for the Dons, this would not be the only buzzer-beater they saw Sunday. The Dons’ first-half offense was carried by two players. Their dynamic backcourt of Bouyea and redshirt junior guard Shabazz combined for 31 points, including all of USF’s made 3-pointers.
Bouyea continued his hot shooting from the first half, scoring each of the Dons’ first 8 points in the second period. Cal and USF combined for 12 points in the first two minutes of the period but then proceeded to combine for only 1 point in the three minutes that followed. The Bears then went on a 7-2 run to bring the game to within 3, the closest margin since the opening minutes of the game.
After scoring only 3 points on 1-for-7 shooting in the first half, Bradley came alive in the second, scoring 14 points while making six of his seven field goal attempts, including some clutch baskets, to keep the Bears in it. Through eight minutes in the period, Cal was on fire, shooting 72% from the field and down just 1 point after a Kelly hook shot.
After being down only 54-52, the Bears had a chance to take the lead and end their losing streak. But Cal’s luck ran out as it went ice-cold for more than five minutes, going 0 for 6 from the field during that stretch.
Down 8 with just 5 1⁄2 minutes to go, the Bears’ odds looked bleak until Bradley willed them back into the game with 6 straight points in the span of a minute to make it a one-possession game.
Kelly showed his clutch gene in this game, making five of six free throws in the last few minutes to bring Cal within one possession multiple times.
The Bears showed a resolve that most teams wouldn’t in their situation. While down 17-5 in a game against a team it hadn’t beaten since 2008, Cal never gave up. Fox and his players fought all the way to the final buzzer. Cal’s newfound confidence should carry over into future games, as its season just took a turn for the better.
“It’s important to beat good teams, and it’s important to play good teams, so even if you lose, you can learn from it and grow to a legitimate place,” Fox said. “It was a really good win and one that hopefully we can lean on to continue to build our team.”