Cal’s losses mount with defeats to Huskies, Cougars, tall task against Wildcats looms

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With a little more than five minutes remaining in Cal’s match against Washington, Huskies guard Terrell Brown Jr. went to work against Cal forward Kuany Kuany. After a series of crossovers, Brown faked a spin and turned around the other way as he rose up.

As the ball rolled around the rim and dropped in, Washington’s bench and fans stood up in amazement.

Brown’s bucket, which gave the Huskies a late 56-51 lead, encapsulated what has been a rough trend for the Bears; they played their opponent close and led by the end of the first half, only to be thoroughly outclassed in the second. During the two-game pacific road trip, which saw Cal fall to Washington 64-55 and lose to Washington State 65-57, it outscored its opponents by 9. Conversely, in the second half, the team was outscored by 27. One major discrepancy that plagued Cal in both games was defensive rebounds.

“If you force a miss you’ve got to go rebound,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox after Saturday’s loss. “We got to finish possessions with the rebound, and we didn’t do that. … We held them to a percentage that’s very acceptable. But we got to clean it up with a rebound. We didn’t do that.”

The Bears were outrebounded 32-23 in Seattle and 39-32 in Pullman. They actually shot better than their counterparts in both games, but an inability to finish the job gave way to multiple offensive rebounds and second chance opportunities. Despite the better shot percentage, the blue and gold still let up 30 points in the paint in each of their road contests. Against the Huskies they had to contend with a one-man wrecking crew in forward Nate Roberts, who had 12 rebounds. The Cougars, meanwhile, brought a balanced rebounding crew, as five players grabbed five rebounds or more and Cal gave up 14 offensive boards.

On the bright side, the Bears did get an extended look at their other pieces who hadn’t received as much playing time previously. With guards Makale Foreman and Joel Brown not at 100%, a substantial number of minutes were available to players such as Kuany and Jalen Celestine.

“Tonight … a lot of good experiences for Kuany and Jalen and Sam (Alajaki) … where they normally wouldn’t have as many handling responsibilities as they did tonight in the half court,” Fox said.

In addition to getting more out of the youngsters, Cal will have to clean up some issues in advance of one of its toughest games of the year: a home matchup against No. 6 Arizona on Jan. 23. The focus will once again be on locking down on the defensive side of the ball to lead what is the best scoring defense in the conference against Arizona’s top-ranked scoring offense. If it can’t get the job done, Cal will surely be in for a long day, as its offense hasn’t shown the necessary firepower to keep up with elite scoring teams.

Cal could surely use a few more trips to the foul line for some offensive production. In addition to having 16 less attempts than Washington and seven less against Washington State, Cal ranks third-worst in the Pac-12 in attempts at the charity stripe.

“You just can’t win that way,” Fox said about the discrepancy against Washington.

Both teams have ample motivation heading into the showdown at Haas Pavilion. The Wildcats are looking to cement their place as one of the best teams in the country, having an inside strack at a top seed after two home losses by No. 1 Baylor. The Bears, on the other hand, are hoping to return to the feelings of hope and progress that accompanied their 9-5 start to the season. With storylines abound ahead of next Sunday, Cal versus Arizona will no doubt be a game to watch.

Ali Fazal covers men’s basketball. Contact him at afazaldailycal.org.