Cougars cruise to victory against shorthanded Bears

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Washington State defeated Cal 71-60 to hand the Bears their third straight loss. Despite the anticipated return of senior Grant Anticevich, Matt Bradley’s absence proved to be too costly. Reality sunk in for the Bears tonight; they can only go as far as the Pac-12’s third leading scorer can take them. In its third consecutive loss, Cal missed Bradley — and badly.

Both teams entered the game hungry and on fire, combining for 15 points in under three minutes of play with both teams shooting over 60%. This shared hot streak ended quickly as only three shots went in over the next four minutes. The first period was back and forth as both the Bears and the Cougars soared and struggled on the offensive end at the same time.

Anticevich made his long-awaited return to action and had an immediate impact, scoring a three-pointer on his first possession. Andre Kelly also showed his ability to score by making back-to-back post shots to end Cal’s field goal drought and put the team up four with just more than half of the period remaining.

After being up by as much as six in the half, the Bears’ lead quickly shrunk to two after a made jumper by Isaac Bonton and a dunk from Efe Abogidi. This was only the beginning of the Cougars’ 15-1 run to turn a six-point deficit into a seven-point lead.

Cal was not going to let this game escape it so quickly, though, as Joel Brown and Ryan Betley went on a combined 7-0 run of their own to tie the game with under a minute remaining in the half. The team entered the second period down 31-28 despite shooting only 35% from the field and 27% from three.

The Bears’ luck was short lived, however, as WSU came out of the halftime break scorching hot. Abogidi made the Cougars’ first two threes of the period to go up seven, and from that point on, Cal couldn’t get any closer to closing the gap. Washington State, led by Bonton, went on a 14-4 run to effectively end the game.

Bonton and Abogidi were doing everything they could, scoring 28 of the Cougars’ 51 points through the first 30 minutes of play. The Bears were not ready to give up just yet, though, as they went on an 8-2 run of their own to cut WSU’s lead to nine. Cal’s two big men, Anticevich and Lars Thiemann, scored six and seven second-half points, respectively, to help cut into WSU’s lead.

But despite its best efforts, Cal really struggled to put up points against the Washington State defense without its leading scorer. The Bears missed each of their first six three-pointers in the second half and relied mostly on free throws. On the brighter side for the Bears, they were relatively mistake-free, as they only gave up seven turnovers compared to 15 by Washington State. But Cal’s horrendous shooting made the turnover battle irrelevant, as the team shot a season-worst 34.5% from the field.

Meanwhile, the Cougars not only played elite defense, but they also shot well, making 44% of their field goals and 39% of their threes.

After losing three in a row for the second time this season, Cal will look to get its first 2021 win against the University of Washington on Saturday. It is safe to say that beating the Huskies is a must for the Bears.

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