The two most notable schools in the UC system are set to face off for the 163rd time Sunday. The basketball history between these two prestigious schools is not particularly close though, as the Bruins have beaten the Bears in 118 of the 162 matchups — including each of the last six — for a staggering win percentage of 73.
The last time the Bears beat the Bruins was in 2016 when future NBA players Jaylen Brown, Jabari Bird and Ivan Rabb were on the roster. Cal does not have the same level of talent this time around and will need all the luck it can get to win this game. The Bears head into this game with a 2-2 record, but their two wins were against Northwest University, an NAIA school, and Nicholls State, which plays in the Southland Conference.
UCLA is 2-1, also with two wins against less-than-stellar opponents, as it blew out Seattle 78-52 Thursday and narrowly edged Pepperdine in a triple-overtime thriller on Black Friday.
Before the season started, the Bruins were ranked among the top 25 in the AP poll, coming in at No. 22, while the Bears were nowhere to be found, as they didn’t get a single vote. It is safe to say that Cal will have its hands full in this matchup, as UCLA will be coming full force to secure its first conference win of the season and extend its win streak over the Bears to seven.
Through three games, the Bruins have proven to be quite the well-rounded team: They have six players with scoring averages of at least 11, and three of them are at 14 or more points per game. Cal does not have this luxury, as other than star junior guard Matt Bradley, who is averaging a career-best 19.5 points per game, no Bear is at 10 points per game, and only Ryan Betley is north of 9.
However, Cal did play competitively against a dangerous ASU team in its Pac-12 opener. Its defense came up huge, allowing the Sun Devils to score only 70 points, their lowest point total of the year by far. If the Bears can replicate that kind of defensive effort against their UC rival, then they have a good chance of winning, even if Bradley isn’t getting much help from his supporting cast.
Three-point shooting is Cal’s biggest question heading into this matchup. The Bears have attempted more threes so far this season than they had through three games last season but have only hit them at a 29.9% rate.
“We hope to utilize the 3-point line because we do have several guys who I think can be a threat to shoot it,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox.
If that percentage can regress to the mean, then the Bears may have hope yet.