The Bears are back: Cal faced Chico State in an exhibition game to inaugurate a new hoops season Wednesday. The importance of the Chico State game lied less in its result and more in what would be brought to light by the team’s performance — and there was a lot yet to be uncovered from a Cal team that lost its top three scorers from last year’s campaign.
The new-look Bears confirmed some long-held fears, but equally revealed new reasons for hope ahead of the 2022-23 season.
The Division II Wildcats came to Berkeley as the underdogs, and Cal took care of business to stifle any hopes of an upset, winning 62-55. The Bears struggled to put the game away for the majority of the game and looked like they may let it slip when the Wildcats took a 33-32 lead early in the second half. But with a mature and composed response, underpinned by the Bears’ intense defense, Cal promptly reclaimed, and then maintained, the advantage.
With only 40 minutes of play in the books, head coach Mark Fox already made clear that his newcomers will be crucial contributors in the upcoming campaign
Junior guard Devin Askew in particular looks poised to take on a leading role for the blue and gold. The Texas transfer played 31:14 minutes, during which he asserted himself as a floor general. However, Askew’s debut was far from a model of efficiency, as he shot 4-14 from the field, losing his touch after hitting three of his first four shots. Askew’s acclimation process may take time, but it will only be accelerated if he continues to assume responsibility in the Bears’ backcourt.
Down low, freshman forward ND Okafor had an action-packed debut. He was limited to just under nine minutes on the court, but he was extraordinarily productive in his fleeting cameo, scoring 11 points and registering five rebounds. The Irishman displayed raw abilities to impose himself in the paint and establish a punishing presence near the cup.
“(Okafor) was very effective, but he’s a young player who’s learning everything about basketball,” Fox said. “But ND was really good in the minutes that he had. … I’m sure ND will be able to build off of tonight’s performance.”
Cal may have unearthed a glimmer of hope in Okafor, but the Chico State performance also highlighted a new concern heading into this season: the three-pointer. The Bears could not find any sort of groove from three throughout the entire game. They shot 2/18 from beyond the arc on the night, including 0/7 in the second half.
“Offensively, we were running so many guys in and out that we never found a rhythm,” Fox said. “That’ll come in time.”
Still, the ability for a shooter to knock down a jumper off the bench is valuable in itself. It may be too early to label Cal a poor shooting team before the season starts, but the Bears will need to significantly improve from range if they ever hope to rely on the three-ball.
What Cal fans can expect from the upcoming season is already beginning to crystallize. It is clear that the offense, suffering from the loss of their best scorers, lacks a focal point and will struggle to put points on the board. It still remains to be seen how Cal’s newcomers — who look set to play influential roles, but with an effectiveness still to be determined — will integrate into their new team.
Now, all eyes will turn to Nov. 7, when the Bears open the regular season and continue their search for answers against UC Davis.