Game of zones: Cal tops Washington in close contest

Photo of Lars Thiemann of Cal Men's Basketball guarding a Washington defender
David McAllister/Staff

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For a Cal squad without leading scorer Matt Bradley and forward Kuany Kuany, it was going to take a total team effort to come away with a victory. And on Saturday afternoon, the Bears rode efforts from across their lineup to clinch their first Pac-12 win of the season in a tight 84-78 bout with the Huskies.

From the opening tipoff, Washington deployed a zone defense with four players beyond the free-throw line to guard the perimeter. Huskies head coach Mike Hopkins’ scheme created on-ball pressure that took away midrange options and forced Cal’s three starting guards to either move the ball or settle for deep three-point attempts.

The Bears countered by moving guard Ryan Betley along the baseline to stretch defenders, allowing them to exploit the Huskies both inside from the high-low area near the post and outside from the corners. Cal head coach Mark Fox emphasized the importance of using his big men to penetrate Washington’s zone — and it quickly became clear why.

Junior forward Andre Kelly made the Bears’ first three buckets and never looked back, draining his first seven attempts en route to a team-high 14 first-half points. Kelly, who shot a stellar 11-13, finished the game with 22 points and tied his season-high mark. Showing off fancy footwork in the post, he patiently took what the defense gave him and made them pay.

But Kelly wasn’t the only big man to leave his fingerprints on this one — senior Grant Anticevich returned to the starting lineup in his second game back following an appendectomy and helped the blue and gold claw back from an early seven-point deficit. After the two teams traded multiple three-pointers, a layup from Anticevich at the 10-minute mark gave Cal a 20-19 lead, its first of the game.

With 30 seconds left in the half, the Bears extended their lead to eight, their largest to that point. They took the 40-32 score into halftime and added to it when play resumed. A three from Makale Foreman was followed up by a jumper from Kelly, and suddenly, Cal found itself the bearer of a 13-point lead.

But just as the Bears went on runs, so too did the Huskies. Washington ripped off a 27-10 run — initiated by an 11-0 stretch — to storm back and take a four-point lead. A key reason for the Huskies’ short-lived dominance was the play of junior transfer Erik Stevenson, who knocked down three shots from deep during the stretch and finished the day with a season-high 27 points to lead all scorers.

For a while, it seemed that Cal would roll over after surrendering its lead — but Foreman was not having it. He continued his hot shooting, notching three straight triples to help the Bears reclaim a nine-point advantage. While it was Kelly who put the blue and gold on his back in the first half, it was the tandem of Foreman and Betley that led Cal in the second half. The graduate transfers combined for 22 second-half points.

The Huskies had one more run in them, tying the contest with two minutes remaining. But the Bears switched to a zone defense, and a few layups from Kelly and two clutch baskets from Joel Brown were enough for the team to put its opponents away for good.

A victory over a one-win Washington team that is yet to win a conference game may have been expected, but the way Cal won was impressive — playing smart basketball, making sound decisions, getting contributions from everyone and showing resilience. If the Bears can replicate this formula, they could find themselves obtaining similar results in games to come.

Kabir Rao is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @kabirr26.