Rebound, recover: Can banged-up Bears beat Huskies?

Photo of Lars Thiemann of Cal Men's Basketball holding the basketball
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Cal men’s basketball has yet to claim its first victory of the calendar year, but it has a great opportunity to do so Saturday afternoon. Washington is coming to town, and for the blue and gold, a home matchup against a struggling opponent could be just what they need to revive their season.

On paper, the Bears should roll the Huskies. Washington enters the game with a dismal 1-8 record and has lost all four of its conference contests thus far. Meanwhile, Cal sits at 5-7 and has shown flashes of real promise throughout the season on both the offensive and defensive ends.

But there’s a reason basketball games shouldn’t be decided by how they appear on paper. The Bears’ record may be somewhat deceiving — they are 0-5 against Pac-12 opponents this season, the worst record in the conference. Cal finds itself battling against the dearth of confidence that comes with a three-game losing streak and dealing with a slew of injuries.

Junior guard Matt Bradley, who leads the Bears in scoring, has missed three of the past five games due to various injuries and is struggling with a tweaked left ankle. It is unclear whether or not he will be able to return to action Saturday, but it is clear how much the blue and gold need him — in their last game, a defeat at the hands of Washington State, the team shot an unimpressive and season-worst 34.5% from the field, and no Bears scored more than 11 points.

The return of senior Grant Anticevich to the lineup should continue to remedy some of Cal’s scoring woes, but that alone will not be enough. If the Bears hope to salvage their season, they will need to shoot the way they did during their three-game winning streak that preceded a New Year’s Eve loss in Eugene, Oregon.

For Cal head coach Mark Fox, offensive efficiency will certainly be a point of emphasis heading into a matchup against a weak Washington defense. The Huskies have surrendered 80.3 points per game to their opponents this season, and their porousness was on full display in their last outing. In a 16-point loss to Stanford, Washington gave up a triple-double to Ziaire Williams. To put that into context, Williams’ triple-double was just the second in program history and the first by a Cardinal player since Brook Lopez in 2007.

The blue and gold will be further aided by home court advantage. Under Fox, the Bears have done an admirable job of defending their den, boasting a 16-7 record when playing at Haas Pavilion over the past two seasons. The Huskies lost both of their road contests this season, and even without Cal fans in the stands, it may be too tall an order for them to claim their first road victory in Berkeley.

While a recent slump and injury struggles have dampened expectations for the Bears, who entered 2021 on a high note, they find themselves in a position to rebound Saturday with a win. A victory would likely do wonders for the confidence of a team that has been so streaky this season. If Cal can execute the way it is expected to on paper, it should secure its first win of the new year — but that’s a big “if.”

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