With five Pac-12 games still on the slate for Cal men’s basketball, new head coach Mark Fox has tied the career Pac-12 win total of former head coach Wyking Jones, who led the Bears for two seasons. The win that earned that accolade came against Washington State late Wednesday night, as Cal won its first game outside of Haas Pavilion this season.
The Bears are looking for their second road win as they head to Seattle to face the struggling Huskies on Saturday. With only five games left on the schedule, every team is fighting for seeding in the Pac-12 tournament in March. Currently, five teams — including Cal — are tied with five conference wins and stretch from seventh to 11th place in the conference.
The difference between playing the sixth seed and the 10th seed in the first round can shape a team’s expectations and, ultimately, its results. As the Bears close out their schedule, every win is an important step toward earning their first Pac-12 tournament win since 2017.
Fortunately for Cal, Washington is in the midst of perhaps the biggest collapse of any Pac-12 school this season. The team started off 10-3 in its nonconference schedule, handing now-No. 1 Baylor its only loss of the season. Freshman forward and NBA draft prospect Isaiah Stewart was playing exceptionally well and expectations were high for conference play.
But circumstances have changed. The Huskies are sitting dead last in the conference of champions 14 games into their Pac-12 season. They started 2-11 and have yet to win a conference game on the road, a far cry from last season’s first place finish in the Pac-12 regular season.
Despite the losses, several Washington players have consistently put up great numbers. Stewart, who averages 15 points per game in conference, joins Quade Green, Nahziah Carter and Jaden McDaniels in averaging double-digit scoring in Pac-12 games.
Stewart also pulls down nearly nine rebounds a game and leads a team that is fifth in the conference in total rebounds, which could be a problem for the Bears, who have been notoriously poor rebounders. The good news for the blue and gold is that the Huskies commit the most turnovers of any Pac-12 school, turnovers which Paris Austin and Kareem South may take advantage of on fast breaks to swing the score in the Bears’ favor.
The last time these schools played, it went to overtime in Haas Pavilion as Matt Bradley sunk a late three to give Cal the victory. Despite the extra minutes, the Bears held Stewart to only 13 points and six rebounds. Winning on the road this time is going to be a more difficult task for the Bears — even with their extra day of rest after their victory over the Cougars on Wednesday.
The key to winning in Pullman was Cal’s ability to spread its offense. Bradley, Austin, and Andre Kelly all scored in the double digits and the guards managed to haul in 19 rebounds. For much of the season, it seemed like Bradley and Austin were the only scoring threats for the Bears, but Kelly and Grant Anticevich have contributed more often as the season has progressed.
As Cal aims to complete the sweep of both Washington schools this season, the pressure will be on the Bears as the countdown to March continues. If they can exploit the Huskies’ turnovers and spread their offense while containing Stewart like they did previously, then the blue and gold could be on their way to a 6-8 conference record.