Bears blow lead in crushing defeat against Beavers

Photo of Andre Kelly of Cal Men's Basketball shooting a free throw
Sunny Shen/Senior Staff

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Tonight, for the second time this season, Cal lost to Oregon State, this time in Berkeley by a score of 73-64. The Bears had a large lead early on in the game but blew it in the second half after Matt Bradley left the game with an injury. Mark Fox’s team went from being up seven points to down five in the span of only a couple of minutes. The second half saw the Bears struggle to score, and even when they got to the free-throw line, they didn’t capitalize: Cal missed 14 free throws while the Beavers missed only five.

OSU really struggled on defense at the start of the game, allowing the Bears to get some easy baskets. Bradley, Pac-12’s leading scorer so far this season and Cal’s main man, managed to score a few layups and a free throw attempt within the first 10 minutes. If that wasn’t enough, OSU also caught some bad luck on the offensive side of the ball, as it missed a few open shots. On one play, the Beavers got a steal but underthrew a pass on the break, which resulted in a steal for the Bears and a wide-open three for Ryan Betley.

Through seven minutes, the Beavers only made two of their first nine shot, whereas Cal managed to make twice as many field goals in only six attempts. This was due to OSU’s reliance on its outside shooting while the Bears attacked the smaller Beaver defense. Size was a big key to Cal’s early lead, as seven-footer Lars Thiemann grabbed four rebounds in the first 10 minutes of play, while OSU only had five total over the same time period.

The Beavers’ lack of size became an even bigger issue when two of their best frontcourt players, Warith Alatishe and Maurice Calloo, got into foul trouble early on. One of OSU’s strengths is its ability to get to the line, and the blue and gold clearly prepared for that, as they didn’t give up a single free throw for the first 16 minutes of the game and only allowed six free throw attempts during the first half. In contrast, the Bears managed to attempt 12 shots at the stripe in the first period and 28 overall.

Things took a dark turn for Cal when Bradley rolled his ankle on a jump pass with less than four minutes remaining in the first half. When Bradley left the floor, the Bears were up 29-21. Now without Bradley, Cal needed to find a new way to create some offense before regrouping at the break. It managed to do so, scoring seven points in the last three minutes to end the half with a double-digit lead.

The second half started off well for the Bears, as they managed to extend their lead to 11 points with just under 17 minutes left. But soon thereafter, the OSU run began, as it proceeded to score nine consecutive points in under two minutes, cutting Cal’s lead to two. The Bears were clearly and quite badly missing Bradley.

Ethan Thompson, the Beavers’ leading scorer on the season, made only two shots in the first half but came alive in the second. Thompson scored seven points in the first eight minutes of the second period to bring the home team within two.

Cal countered Thompson’s attack with a 7-2 run to extend its lead back to seven with 10 minutes remaining. Then, almost suddenly, the Bears went cold, going more than three minutes straight without a made field goal. This gave OSU the opening it needed to come back and tie the game at 56 apiece.

With the game tied at 63 with only three minutes to go, the pressure was mounting. OSU’s Thompson hit a clutch jump hook to take the lead. Thiemann, whose rebounding ability helped the Bears to an early lead, was less helpful later on, as he missed two free throws that could have tied the game.

Even more surprisingly, Thompson, a career 76% free throw shooter, missed two at the line that could have sealed the game. Ultimately, it didn’t matter, as OSU began the new year the right way: with a win.

Cal will hope they can get Bradley back sooner rather than later, as missing him and forward Grant Anticevich, who underwent an appendectomy two weeks ago, will make it a struggle to win games. If Bradley’s injury is serious, Cal will be a heavy underdog this Thursday night when it take on the undefeated Washington State Cougars in Haas Pavilion.

Tom Aizenberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].