Can underdog Bears surprise Buffaloes?

Photo of Cal Men's Basketball Before Game Against Colorado
David McAllister/File

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The fate of the Bears’ season appeared to be on the line entering Saturday’s matchup against Washington. Losing to a 1-8 team would have ended Cal’s hopes for the rest of the year. The Huskies are the only Pac-12 team without a conference win and are 1-9 overall, so barely squeaking by with an 84-78 victory was still nothing to smile about. It was a game that the blue and gold were expected to win. Heck, it was a game the Bears had to win.

In fairness, the team was without Matt Bradley, who is unlikely to play anytime soon. This means that Cal will have to prepare for yet another conference game without its leading scorer.

The Bears will have their hands full when they face the Colorado Buffaloes, who are 9-3 on the year. The same Washington team that Cal eked by was utterly demolished by Colorado — not a promising sign for the Bears’ hopes in this game.

Cal allowed the Huskies, who average 63 points per game, to score 78 points. For reference, Colorado averages 74.8 points per game. With the way the Buffaloes score the basketball, it is hard to see how the blue and gold will slow them down. Colorado has a balanced offense and doesn’t rely on any single player to carry the scoring load for the team, which helps keep it consistent.

The Buffaloes’ biggest strength is at the charity stripe. They lead the nation in free throw percentage at 85.6%. This percentage is almost a full 20% better than the Bears’ measly 66% average. Cal has done a good job keeping teams off the free-throw line and will have to prioritize that in this game more than ever before considering how precise the Buffaloes are when it comes to freebies.

Without a surprise comeback from Bradley, it is highly unlikely that the Bears will be able to win this game. That is just the reality. However, if Cal manages to keep the contest competitive, that would bode well for how the Bears will perform once Bradley returns. If the blue and gold keep their margin of defeat in single digits or somehow manage to win, that should be a moral victory. With or without Bradley, they have no business being in a competitive game with Colorado.

The talent disadvantage means that the Bears will have to not only play harder and smarter than the Buffaloes, but they will also have to shoot a lot more three-pointers. The three-point shot has added more randomness to basketball than ever before. Cal’s only shot is to shoot as many threes as it can and hope that enough fall to make this a competitive game.

There is no pressure for the Bears. Unlike in their previous game, they are not expected to win or even be competitive. The pressure is all on Colorado. This is a must-win game for them. For Cal, things can only go up.

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