Cal entered the game with a perfect 33-0 record against UC Davis, last renewing their dominance against the Aggies in 2019. The Bears relinquished their undefeated standing in the matchup, however, losing 65-75.
Davis looked the better team from the opening tip, taking an early lead and holding the Bears at arm’s reach for the rest of the first half. Junior guard Devin Askew led a brief Cal comeback in the second half, but the Bears went ice-cold in the final stretch to give up their lead — and the game.
Cal’s unit of returning players was assigned new, expanded roles in this year’s opening showing.
Senior center Lars Thiemann proved pivotal for the Bears down low. He bullied the Aggies’ interior with his full arsenal of post moves and ruled both offensive and defensive boards. Thiemann made impressive use of his shooting opportunities, converting seven of his 11 shots and shooting 75% from the free throw line.
Senior forward Kuany Kuany offered the Bears a much-needed offensive spark, finding a rhythm from range and imposing himself with physical drives through the lane. He scored a crucial three-pointer to stretch the Bears’ lead as they looked to preserve their comeback.
In contrast, the Bears’ newcomers were relatively quiet — barring Texas transfer Devin Askew, who was a controlling offensive presence.
Back to basics
Cal revisited the fundamentals since its last outing against Chico State, in which it shot just 58.1% from the free throw line and displayed questionable shot selection throughout the entire 40 minutes. The Bears collected their focus at the charity stripe this time around, converting 11 of 15 attempts against the Aggies.
Perhaps more importantly, Cal was also far less hurried with the ball, spending more time to probe and find high-percentage looks. The Bears’ more methodical approach was crucial to their shooting success — they lost their composure and touch when Davis staged its late comeback.
Askew’s performance merits the most plaudits from Cal fans. The point guard played 35 minutes as Cal’s principal ball-handler, instigating many of the Bears’ offensive sequences.
From the opening tip, he looked ready to take on a high-volume shooting role, going on to lead Cal in scoring with 19 points
The junior found a formidable rhythm in the second half, tearing up the UC Davis defense with forceful drives to the basket, which he could finish from mid range or under the cup. Askew’s ability as a facilitator was also vital to the functioning of Cal’s offense –– he finished the game with four assists.
UC Davis was very effective in crashing the boards, out-rebounding Cal 40 to 34. The Aggies took advantage of Cal’s lack of reliable rebounding ability beyond Thiemann to generate second chance points and catalyze fast breaks. The Aggies scored 24 points off fast breaks — meanwhile, they contained the Bears to just two points in similar situations.
Ultimately, the decisive culprit of the Bears’ loss is their nearly eight minute dry spell in the second half. As they looked to defend their newly established lead, Cal went completely silent, missing 14 consecutive shots. UC Davis capitalized on its lifeline, scoring 17 unanswered points to turn the game on its head.
The blue and gold will stay in Berkeley to host Kansas State this Friday. The Wildcats opened their season auspiciously with a commanding 93-59 win against Texas Rio Grande Valley. Kansas State, which finished second to last in the Big 12 last season, will be the Bears’ first Power 5 test of the 2022-2023 campaign.
The level of Cal’s competition will only continue to rise, and the Bears will need to improve across all levels of their game if they hope to find form this season.