“Never judge a gift by its wrapping.”
While the final box score of 73-53 suggests that Cal was in control for most of the game, it “really was a tale of two halves,” said head coach Mark Fox.
Cal kicked off the holiday festivities with an early 8-0 lead, but Pacific came storming back, eventually tying the game at 23 apiece. Following this, the Tigers even built a 5-point advantage heading into the half, leading 30-25.
The blue and gold were clearly not looking to do any Christmas shopping, as they couldn’t buy a basket. Shooting an atrocious 34.48% from the field on 29 attempts in the opening half, their overall shooting was so off that they actually shot a higher percentage from three (35.71% on 14 attempts).
If shots aren’t falling, attacking the rim is a great way to build a rhythm — whether it be from fatigue or anticipation of the upcoming holiday break, the blue and gold simply weren’t assertive enough, with zero free throw attempts in the first half.
“(I) did not think we played well in the first half tonight, even though I thought we started the game in a decent fashion,” Fox said.
However, the Bears made sure to end the year on a bang, as they eventually devoured the Tigers 48-23 in the second half, overwhelming the University of the Pacific on both ends of the floor. Cal also shot an efficient 18-30 in the second half, nearly doubling its first-half field goal percentage on a higher volume of shots.
“We didn’t play with a lot of authority in the first half, and then in the second half, we found our groove and obviously had a lot of guys contribute,” Fox said.
Cal had four players with double-digit scoring nights: Jordan Shepherd, Andre Kelly, Jalen Celestine and Grant Anticevich. Anticevich led the way for the Bears with 25 points on an impressive 9-14 clip from the field and an even more impressive 7-11 clip from 3-point territory.
“I had a lot of open shots. My teammates were doing a great job of drawing the help from my defender and getting me easy, clean looks,” Anticevich said.
On top of the efficient second half, the Bears took good care of the ball, with just nine turnovers on the night.
Adjusting to mistakes made in the game is one thing, but overreacting is another; Cal occasionally found itself doing the latter, whether it be fouling following a turnover or trying to force a quick shot. However, the Bears remained disciplined in this game with their solid transition defense, allowing 0 fast-break points and just 8 points off of turnovers.
Another reason for the stark contrast of the halves is the blue and gold’s aggression. By simply attacking the rim more and not settling for shots, they got seven more free throw attempts than they did in the first half and drilled all but one.
Cal’s offense came from its defense, resulting in a good night: The blue and gold forced the Tigers to cough up the ball 13 times and scored 18 points off of these mistakes.
Although Cal didn’t play the stiffest competition, it still exceeded expectations by achieving its overall 9-5 record and winning six of its last seven games; it has already won as many games as it did all of last season and isn’t even halfway through the current season. Moreover, considering that the Bears also lost their best player prior to the season, the team is looking surprisingly coordinated on both ends of the floor.
“When healthy, we like our team, but we have to continue to get better,” Fox said.
The fans’ thoughts exactly.