Early January is a time of hope and optimism. A time when the troubles of the past years can be left behind. A time when an eye turns toward the successes and dreams that can be accomplished in the near future. For Cal fans, that meant consistently winning basketball games.
Instead, the Bears dropped their first game of 2021 following an abysmal second half against Oregon State in which they blew a double-digit lead. It was a disappointment when considering how tight Cal played a superior Oregon squad on New Year’s Eve. But January brings hope.
Both the Bears and the Cougars are winless in the 2021 calendar year and will be hungry to have a bounce-back performance in their matchup this Thursday night. Sounds like two similar situations, right? Wrong — let’s take a closer look.
Cal’s season has been up-and-down, to say the least. The team started the season 2-1 but then lost three in a row. It followed that up with a three-game win streak before losing to Oregon and Oregon State. To make matters worse for the Bears, they will be without starting forward Grant Anticevich for the fifth straight game and will likely not have junior standout Matt Bradley.
Bradley suffered a left ankle injury in the blue and gold’s loss to the Beavers and did not practice with the team Monday. While nothing is confirmed yet, Cal should prepare to face off against Washington State without him.
Offense has been an inconsistency all season, and without two of its top offensive weapons, Cal is going to have to rely on the next-man-up mentality. Players such as Makale Foreman, Jarred Hyder, Ryan Betley and Andre Kelly will have to find a way to score against an imposing Cougar defense.
Washington State has had a far different experience so far, as the team began the season on a tear, winning its first eight games by an average margin of 11 points each. Its only loss this season came in the team’s last contest, a double-overtime thriller against Arizona.
The Cougars have boasted an elite defense so far, allowing only 60.8 points per game in their wins. However, each of Washington State’s first nine games have been at home. The team’s first road test will be this showdown against Cal in Berkeley.
This is where the Bears’ advantage comes in, as they have been fantastic at home, sporting a 4-1 record when playing at Haas Pavilion. Cal has also managed to score at least 60 points in each of its home games, including more than 70 in its last three matchups. If this had been a road game and the blue and gold were potentially without two starters against an elite conference rival, there would not be much to talk about. But, similar to January, home court brings hope.
Haas Pavilion represents not only an advantage for the Bears but also a disadvantage for the Cougars. Washington State has struggled on the road in recent years, having won just five of its 33 road games since the start of the 2017-18 season.
In head-to-head matchups between the two squads, Cal has been dominant, winning 30 of 42 meetings and the last three. The team looks to push that streak to four Thursday night.
If the Bears can do so, then perhaps the hope of early January will extend to the rest of the month.
Tom Aizenberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].