Defending the homefront: Cal to face Dartmouth

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Theo Wyss-Flamm/Senior Staff

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While Tom Holland’s Spiderman struggles to find his way home come the highly anticipated movie premiere this weekend, the Bears feel quite at ease at home in Haas Pavilion as they take on another opponent in their four-game homestand to close nonconference play.

The Bears are reeling from a stressful finals week as the Dartmouth Big Green bring the Ivy  League-hallowed halls to Berkeley on Sunday. Coming off of two consecutive victories at home — the most recent of which was a thrilling dub over a backyard opponent — the blue and gold hope to extend their winning record within the safe walls of Haas Pavilion.

The win over Santa Clara was a hard-fought and monumental one, marking the first time the Bears have crossed the threshold of a 0.500 winning percentage this season. Cal fans will hope that number can continue on its upward trajectory as the season progresses.

It was quite a show that the Bears put on at Haas Pavilion on Saturday against the Broncos; the crowd — perhaps the most alive one to date — certainly enjoyed it. Currently, three of the top teams in the NBA are the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors and the Brooklyn Nets. It just so happens that the top three defensive teams in the NBA are the same. It’s no doubt that all three teams boast phenomenal scorers and playmakers — one even has the greatest 3-point shooter of all time on its roster, but the common denominator for their success remains elite defense. Though not always as entertaining and show stopping as its flashy counterpart, defense is often overlooked as a critical step to victory.

The Bears did not make that mistake.

The Cal versus Santa Clara matchup saw one of the most brilliant defensive demonstrations by the Bears in a long time, reinforcing one of the many characteristics of this team under the administration of head coach Mark Fox.

Time has been an ally as the Bears have continued to develop their chemistry on the court, especially that between their two leading scorers: Andre Kelly and Jordan Shepherd. With the way those two are playing, it’s difficult to believe that this is their first season as teammates. Shepherd recorded a game-high six assists against the Broncos, and audiences should expect more dimes from him in the Dartmouth game. With even more practices and games in the future to foster and strengthen Shepherd and Kelly’s chemistry, the combo has the potential to become a deadly guard-forward duo who dominates the game.

“Our chemistry is working really well together. (Kelly’s) proving to be a dominant force in the paint, and he’s proved that all season,” Shepherd said. “He’s done it against the best bigs, and that’s what we’re used to seeing. It’s great to be out there playing with him.”

The Dartmouth roster doesn’t seem to include an elite scorer such as the Broncos’ Jaylen Williams — whom most of Cal’s defensive efforts went toward Saturday — but the Bears should never rule out the possibility of a dark horse in the race. Currently on a steady losing streak, the 3-6 Big Green are fresh off an overtime loss to Stanford. Fans can only anticipate whether the Big Green’s thirst for a taste of victory will outweigh their losing slump, or if they’ll just give another victory tally to the Bears come Sunday.

In the meantime, the Bears need only focus on their own performance. It seems that being at home has finally given the blue and gold that sense of rhythm and consistency that was lacking in their sluggish start to the season. It’s also important to remember that even though these games are not part of Pac-12 play, they are every bit as crucial and meaningful.

As Fox puts it, “Every win we get is important.”

Tina Xue covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].