When Cal men’s basketball takes the floor at Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, it will mark 28 days since the team last earned a victory. After a somewhat promising 7-8 start, the Bears have stumbled down into the conference basement, dropping their last seven contests. However, a win over heavily favored Colorado would give the blue and gold something to build upon as the postseason Pac-12 tournament edges nearer.
The Buffaloes enter Berkeley armed with a 10-4 record in Pac-12 play after ripping off an impressive three-game win streak. In that span, Colorado took down Arizona, Stanford and Oregon State, all three of whom beat Cal earlier this season. The Cardinal downed the Bears twice in four days last week.
But it isn’t just those three teams who have bested Cal. On Jan. 14, the blue and gold were stampeded off the court by the Buffaloes to the tune of 60-89. But simply looking at the box score of that game won’t tell you the full story.
During that battle in Boulder, the Bears were without junior guard Matt Bradley. Bradley, who currently leads the team in total scoring despite an extended absence, was dealing with a tweaked ankle at the time but has since recovered and returned to terrorizing opposing defenses. In four career games against Colorado, he averages 18 points per game, a mark just shy of his 18.5-point average this season.
It has become clear over the course of Cal’s ongoing slump that one of its biggest weaknesses has been the lack of a support system around Bradley. If they hope to pull off an upset, the Bears will have to find other sources of scoring. In fact, it is imperative that they do so, as this Buffalo squad typically beats its opponents by an average of 12 points. The blue and gold will have to keep pace with Colorado’s high-flying offense, led by senior guard McKinley Wright IV.
Wright has stuffed the stat sheet this season, averaging 14.5 points to go along with nearly six assists and four rebounds per game. The last time these two teams squared off, Wright scored 13 points and put his playmaking ability on full display, dishing out 12 assists. Stopping Wright will certainly be at the forefront of Cal head coach Mark Fox’s defensive game plan.
Fortunately for the Bears, however, their performance in a last-second loss to Utah on Thursday might have been their best performance since their last win, which, coincidentally, came against the Utes back in mid-January. Down by seven with 45 seconds left in the game, Cal clawed its way back and was a Bradley three-point make away from a third straight win over Utah. Perhaps most importantly, the blue and gold saw four players reach double-digit scoring.
If the Bears can keep the momentum they found towards the end of Thursday’s bout, they might have a shot at avenging their previous beatdown at the hooves of the Buffaloes. If they cannot, it will become even harder to find a light at the end of this terribly long tunnel.