Sometimes, a bad start is beneficial — it can help to rectify mistakes early and inform adjustments moving forward.
Matt Bradley made his first start since Jan. 2 against Arizona State and, within the first two minutes of the bout, missed two layups before hucking a pass out of bounds. The next eight minutes didn’t play out much better for the Bears, who shot an atrocious 17% from the field — three for 18. It seemed too late to readjust, too late to rectify mistakes. Cal fell behind by twelve.
But six more minutes passed, and in one of the last plays of the period, an alley-oop from Bradley to Andre Kelly resulted in a thunderous dunk. In the last seven minutes of the half, Cal transformed a twelve-point deficit into a one-point lead. Needless to say, the Bears identified room for adjustment and tuned their play accordingly.
Both Kelly and Bradley recorded double-doubles, the former on 16 points and 13 rebounds. Bradley turned in his first 20-point performance since New Year’s Eve, finishing with 26 points and 10 rebounds.
But it still wasn’t enough.
Senior forward Grant Anticevich, who averaged almost 17 points per game in his last three outings prior to facing the Sun Devils, fell flat for just five points on 14% shooting. Junior guard Joel Brown also recorded a lackluster four-point, two-assist performance after putting up 15 points and nabbing seven boards against USC.
Cal committed 15 turnovers, off of which Arizona State scored 20 points. What was more damaging, however, was how the Bears did not record a single field goal for nearly six of the last seven minutes of the game. Even though they were able to sink a few free throws, it was only Bradley alone who contributed for the entirety of the last few minutes.
“Tonight, we tested the theory of little things. When you understand the consequences of little things, you realize there’s no such thing as a little thing,” said head coach Mark Fox in a postgame press conference. “The little mistakes we made tonight ended up being very costly in a game that ended up decided by two possessions.”
The now 5-8 Sun Devils hadn’t nabbed a victory since Dec. 13, but with standout guard Remy Martin, who splashed 19 points, back at the helm, they appeared well-equipped to take this one from the start.
And while Bradley dropped 26, he was still not the fine-tuned guard Cal had at the beginning of the season. He fought hard, but finished on just 40% shooting and with three turnovers despite his efforts.
“Matt’s not the Matt Bradley that everyone saw a year ago. He’s had injuries to both legs,” said Fox. “He played super hard … but he’s a little bit out of rhythm, and he’s still got to get some conditioning back. But his spirit to compete, I love it.”
At the end of the day, it will take more than just Bradley and Kelly to carry the Bears to a .500 record, as they currently sit at 7-11 on the season and 2-9 in conference play. Anticevich, Brown and company will need to step up as they showed they could when Bradley was gone.