As an animated koala by the name of Buster Moon once said, “You know what’s great about hitting rock bottom? There’s only one way left to go, and that’s up.”
Cal men’s basketball has perhaps hit the lowest point in its entire season; it’s almost safe to say that no sports team on this side of the Mississippi has suffered as much as the Bears in the span of the past month.
Beleaguered by the relentless Pac-12 monsters on the road, two more losses to the Washington schools — arguably attainable games at home — has brought the losing streak to double digits. What Cal fans had hoped would be a morale booster at home had somehow turned into a preview for the rest of the season. As if leaving Haas Pavilion with a 10-game losing streak on its name wasn’t already a herald of woe, Cal recently lost its star Andre Kelly to an ankle injury.
The senior forward, who limped off the court during the USC game Jan. 29, was confirmed to have to be confined to the sidelines for the remainder of the season — and perhaps the remainder of his Cal career. All the meanwhile, the perilous Pac-12 tournament looms closer each and every day; but the Bears cannot afford to look even more than one game ahead into the future if they have any hopes of gaining their momentum back.
The only thing Cal should be worried about is its next opponent: Oregon State.
Judging by the numbers, it seems like the Bears and the Beavers are on strikingly similar wavelengths; a significant losing streak, a conference record that’s nearing zero with every passing game and an inability to win on opponent territory, are all strangely reminiscent of a Kelly-less Cal team. If Cal fans can remember back to the last matchup of these two teams, they would be very wistfully reminded of a very different time: when an astonishing victory to open conference play planted seeds of hope and promise of the upcoming season into the hearts of players and fans alike. They would bitterly reminisce on the Shepherd-Kelly dynamic duo that propelled the team to an early season victory.
Though the Bears’ most recent loss to the Cougars was a loss, it somehow wasn’t quite as disheartening. Viewers of the game could almost see a shadow of a past Cal team out there on the court, one that was pre-devastating losing streak and pre-Kelly injury. Saturday afternoon saw the first signs of Grant Anticevich slowly but surely recovering from his shooting slump — recording his first double-digit scoring game in nearly a month — as well as sophomore guard Jalen Celestine contributing with a career-high 20 points.
Oregon State is no USC or UCLA; it’s not even Washington State. If fans could hand-pick a team in the entire conference for a chance at a desperate victory, it would be the Beavers. The only thing for the Bears to overcome is their apparent away-game-phobia.
“You have to play complete. You have to be able to do everything: defend, score on the inside, make a few 3s, get to the foul line,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox following the narrow loss to the Cougars. “That’s what it takes to beat good teams. We’ve gotten close, but that’s not what we came here to do.”
Anticevich echoed Fox’s sentiment: “We just gotta play a full 40 minutes; that’s the main thing for us, not to have any lapses during the game.”
As the Bears leave the Bay and travel to Corvallis, Cal fans will hold their breath and see if rock bottom really is enough for the Bears to finally put a stop to their downward spiral, or if they will just end up digging themselves into a deeper hole.
Tina Xue covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].