Cal men’s basketball did not know that it would play a game Saturday until two days prior. But anyone who saw the Bears in action Saturday would certainly not be able to tell — the blue and gold were prepared and dominated on both sides of the ball, cruising to an 87-56 win over Cal State Northridge.
Perhaps the most impressive feat in Cal’s victory was the fact that the team was missing its two leading scorers in junior guard Matt Bradley and senior forward Grant Anticevich. While Bradley has missed practice most of this week with an ankle injury suffered at the end of the Bears’ last contest, the situation surrounding Anticevich appears much more alarming. Late Thursday night, head coach Mark Fox was woken up by a phone call informing him that Anticevich had to undergo an emergency appendectomy Friday morning. Fox has been present at the hospital along with Kuany Kuany, Anticevich’s teammate and roommate. It remains unclear how long Anticevich will remain out, but Fox said he considers Bradley “day to day.”
Despite two team leaders being out of the lineup, Fox’s players knew what had to be done and did it well: 11 Bears scored on the day, including three in double figures. Cal shot an extremely efficient 61% from the field and went nearly 53% from deep to post its highest scoring output of the season thus far.
Stepping up in the absence of Bradley and Anticevich were graduate transfers Ryan Betley and Makale Foreman. Fresh off his buzzer-beating 3-pointer to lift Cal over USF, Foreman had his swagger on, leading all scorers with 23 points, 15 of which came in the first half. Betley was also feeling it, draining five of his six 3-point attempts and tacking on 19 points of his own. As the oldest players on the team, Betley and Foreman knew it was on them to lead their team despite this being both players’ first season in Berkeley.
“We have that next-man-up mentality this year,” Betley said. “Coming off that game-winner, we capitalized on that momentum.”
Perhaps the highlight of the night came in the second period when Betley and Foreman notched back-to-back threes from the same exact spot on the right side of the floor. Making use of dribble-handoff screens that got the defender to sink inward, Cal freed up its shooters and continued to do so all game long — the Matadors never led in the contest.
Fox’s squad entered halftime with an 18-point lead and never took its foot off the gas. In fact, one second-half stretch saw the Bears tear off a 17-2 run, in which they made eight consecutive shots and held Cal State Northridge to just 1-of-9 shooting. Cal finished the job on the defensive end, allowing the second-least number of points it has all season.
“You get up 20 or 30, and younger teams tend to let up,” Betley said. “Every possession counts, especially in a year like this.”
One storyline Cal fans were certainly following heading into Saturday’s matchup was transfer Jarred Hyder making his debut for the Bears after being granted eligibility earlier in the week. While Hyder is expected to get a starting nod at some point this season, it was sophomore Joel Brown who filled in for Bradley. Brown did an admirable job, shooting a perfect 5 of 5 from the field for 10 points and adding six rebounds, eight assists and two steals.
Hyder scored 6 of his own in his debut, but he wasn’t the only one completing a first. Freshman Jalen Celestine also tallied his first points as a Bear on a fast-break dunk. The Bears came ready to run, posting 13 fast-break points, but also played an unselfish brand of basketball, creating 19 assists.
Fans will have to wait until at least Tuesday to see the highly anticipated tandem of Bradley and Hyder together in Cal’s backcourt. And despite Brown’s complete performance against the Matadors, pairing the former AAU teammates together still seems to be Fox’s ultimate intention.
“Put zero stock into the rotation (from Saturday),” Fox said. “Today was just, ‘Patch it together and find a way to win.’ ”
In a year when patching things up has been the most common course of action, the Bears have seemingly perfected the craft. As Cal prepares for conference play to open soon, the depth it flashed Saturday will be integral to its success. If the rest of the team continues to perform the way it did against Northridge, when Bradley and Anticevich return, look for the blue and gold to exceed expectations.