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Bears stay hot at home, beat Broncos 70-62

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DECEMBER 13, 2021

There’s no place like home. Cal men’s basketball has made Haas Pavilion a fortress this season. That continued Saturday night, as the Bears rode two big runs to knock off a strong Santa Clara team 72-60 and earn their sixth straight win on home court.

The game didn’t start off strong for the Bears, as cold shooting and an aggressive Santa Clara offense allowed the visiting Broncos to open up a 10-point lead with less than five minutes to go in the first half, leading Cal 34-24.

Just as the game’s outcome seemed dark for the Bears, they flipped a switch. Combining lockdown defense with hot shooting off of the bench, they closed the half on a 14-0 run. It was perhaps the most impressive stretch of basketball Cal has played all season. The team clawed its way back into a game that at one point seemed lost and entered the second half with a 38-34 lead.

“Our group finished off the first half really well, gave us a lead and changed the game,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox.

Equally as important, however, was a similarly impressive takeover to close the second half, which allowed the Bears to escape with a victory. Cal maintained a slight lead throughout the early stages of the second half, but a comfortable point differential was hard to create.

Then, with just over five minutes left in the game, the Broncos put together a series of stops and key buckets to knot the game at 53. It looked like a battle that would go down to the wire.

Instead, the blue and gold managed to take over once again, finishing the game with a dominant 19-7 run in the clutch to turn a potential toss-up into a 12-point victory.

The victory brings the Bears’ record to 6-5, moving them over .500 for the first time this season. It was an impressive win over a team who entered the game with a 7-3 record, including a 16-point win over Stanford.

Pac-12 play will be a different animal entirely, but nevertheless, the game was an encouraging one in which Cal managed to do many little things right.

The Bears went a perfect 10-10 from the free-throw line and dominated the rebounding battle 44-26. They also played excellent defense, especially to end both halves and kept Santa Clara’s top scorer Keshawn Justice to just 13 points.

“We’re starting to get healthy and have more guys, so we can come at you in waves defensively and we’re bigger,” Fox said. “We can keep fresh bodies on great players.”

On the offensive end, multiple Bears chipped in, but they were led by the familiar duo of Jordan Shepherd and Andre Kelly.

Shepherd had 15 points on 6-19 shooting, but what he lacked in efficiency he made up for with six assists, the majority of which were to Kelly.

“Jordan did a great job of finding me some easy buckets on the pick and roll. Credit to him, he’s a great passer and I love playing with him,” Kelly said. “He was putting it right there for me, and all I had to do was lay it in.”

Kelly led the Bears in scoring with 18 points on stellar 8-11 shooting and chipped in eight rebounds.

The next step for Cal will be translating its home-court success to the more daunting Pac-12 play, especially on the road. The Bears have yet to claim victory away from the comfort of Haas Pavilion, sporting a disappointing 0-4 record in visiting arenas. Though, if Saturday night’s performance was any indication, that may soon change.

“It feels great, like all the hard work is starting to pay off,” Shepherd said. “We’re starting to do the things we wish we would’ve done before. We’re doing them right now, and it’s working out for us.”

The Bears have certainly hit their stride on home court, and an impressive victory over Santa Clara was perhaps their best win yet. It was a positive result on multiple levels, with the Bears showing off strong scoring, rebounding, stellar defense and an impressive ability to take over the game in important moments. If Cal is able to build off of the win, continued success could be in store.

Benjamin Coleman covers men’s basketball and is a deputy sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].

DECEMBER 13, 2021