On Thursday night against Washington State, the Bears got blown out by 31 points and shot 36% from the field. Mark Fox’s squad was probably relieved knowing that its next game would be against the 4-17 Huskies. And yet, some way, somehow, Cal managed to play even worse against its companions at the bottom of the Pac-12 barrel.
Earlier this season, the Bears earned a relatively close win over Washington without Matt Bradley — they could have been considered the favorites in Seattle with Bradley reinstated in the starting lineup. Instead, Cal had its worst shooting game of the season, and by a wide margin. After shooting 36% against the Cougars, the Bears shot 26.7% against the Huskies. In other words, Washington, one of the worst teams in collegiate basketball, held Cal to well under 30% from the field en route to a 51-62 win, just their fifth of the season.
Bradley, the Bears’ go-to scorer all year, was a complete nonfactor as he shot 3-16 from the field for just 13 points, a season-low in games in which he played over 30 minutes. The only positive takeaway for the blue and gold Saturday was their low turnover margin, as they only gave the ball up 10 times.
Now Cal finds itself in the homestretch of the season with just two games remaining against clearly superior teams. The silver lining is that both games are at home where the Bears are 6-6.
First up is Oregon State on Thursday night. The Beavers defeated the Bears in both of their two meetings this season. Neither game was a blowout for OSU, but neither came down to the wire. The fact that both games were played in Corvallis is significant though, as the Beavers have an atrocious 1-6 on the road. Their final matchup being at Haas Pavilion may help tip the balance in Cal’s favor.
The Bears also shoot slightly better at home than they do on the road, as they have made at least 47% of their shots in six of their 12 home games as opposed to four of their 12 away games. All of these signs bode well for Cal in its final game of the season against OSU. But given the Bears’ struggles all season, they are still the heavy underdogs heading in. After all, great teams find ways to win while poor teams find ways to lose.
The final regular season game of the year will come at home Saturday night against Oregon. The Ducks were on a five-game win streak before a 58-72 loss at the hands of USC, the best team in the conference. Many of Oregon’s recent Pac-12 wins this season have been narrow victories, but their 9-4 conference record does not show it.
Much of Oregon’s success can be attributed to the fact that it is one of the best offensive teams in the Pac-12, as it averages 73 points per game and boast a balanced attack. The team have five players averaging at least 10 ppg, including two who average 16.8 per game: forward Eugene Omoruyi and guard Chris Duarte. This is a stark contrast to the Bears, who only have one consistent scorer in Bradley. Two Bradley-level scorers along with slightly more consistent three-point shooting (35.7% compared to 32.9% for Cal) are going to be big factors for the Ducks in this game.
The teams’ first meeting was in Oregon and was decided by only 13 points. However, unlike the Beavers, the Ducks are actually strong on the road as well as at home so home-court advantage may not come into play. Considering how well Oregon has played as of late, it is difficult to see a scenario in which the blue and gold hold their own in this game, let alone win.
A victory would require a huge Bradley performance on top of much needed support — or perhaps career nights — from at least two or three other players such as Andre Kelly, Ryan Betley, Makale Foreman and Grant Anticevich.
A big performance from anyone beside Bradley, however, is improbable, which is why the Bears have stumbled through this season. There was hope heading into the year that Cal would take a step forward and finish at a respectable 0.500 or so. Instead, the team will most likely finish yet another season in a disappointing fashion.
Tom Aizenberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].