Cal head coach Mark Fox said this was the first time since the Bears’ victory over Nicholls State that all of his starters were ready to go. But while their presence paid off against the Colonels, road games continued to pummel the Bears as the Waves crashed over them Wednesday night.
Pepperdine’s Kessler Edwards initiated an early attack and never let up, finishing with 26 points on the night. As predicted, he was the biggest threat to Cal’s defense, shooting 69% from the field and 67% from three. After an 11-3 run started the game, the Waves kept on moving, delivering a 74-62 blow to continue the Bears’ road struggles. Cal trailed by single digits with four and a half minutes left in the game but dropped back by double digits for the rest of the outing.
Senior forward Grant Anticevich kept the blue and gold somewhat in the picture in the first half, however, dropping 14 points by halftime and 21 in the game, his season high. Junior star Matt Bradley erupted in the second half to finish with a career-high 27 points, without which the game would’ve surely fallen into blowout territory.
Cal was unable to contain Pepperdine’s pick-and-roll assault, and while a switch to a zone defense from the Bears’ usual man-to-man in the middle of the first half paid off briefly, they were unable to match the Waves’ offensive productivity. They shot a dreadful 20.8% from three and 39.6% from the field on the game.
Cal’s starters, Anticevich and Bradley aside, were largely to blame for the blue and gold’s inability to score. Sophomore point guard Joel Brown proved a liability on offense, fouling out before recording a single field goal and with just 1 point to show for the matchup. Similarly, graduate guard Ryan Betley fell flat for the Bears, logging 4 points after drilling a mere one out of seven field goal attempts.
This was Pepperdine’s first triumph over a Pac-12 team since 2012 — and its first-ever victory against Cal. Perhaps it speaks volumes about where Pepperdine is headed this season. More likely, however, it expresses the Bears’ perpetual inability to win away from Haas in true road games. But to be fair, Bradley can only carry his team for so long. Anticevich served as a potent second option Wednesday, but the rest of the team came up short. And frankly, 60-point putouts do not cut it for a team that lacks the defensive depth to cover them.
It’s not all bad for the blue and gold, though. A season-high scoring performance from Anticevich and eight rebounds to match were a sign of brewing support for Bradley. But the Bears are still most easily defined as Bradley and company, for now. Unless Anticevich can consistently put together showings like this one or Betley and the rest of Fox’s starters can start notching more buckets, it’s looking like Cal’s 2-4 record will only worsen. For Bradley to register a career high and his team to fall by 12 to an out-of-conference, unranked opponent speak volumes about the increased assistance he will need in the season ahead.
Sure, matchups with the University of San Francisco and a 1-4 Boston College squad might seem like good chances for Cal to bounce back from an out-of-conference loss, but they will pose problems of their own. After all, the Dons stumped No. 4 Virginia earlier this season, and Boston College defeated Rhode Island, who beat USF. Yes, these are compounding factors, but in theory, they signify what will continue to be a tough road journey for the Bears.
A loss to Pepperdine isn’t everything, especially six games deep into a highly unusual season. But it poses a question: Will anything change for Cal men’s basketball this year?