Cal men’s basketball was offered a reality check Thursday night against Colorado.
After a 10-game losing streak and the loss of star forward Andre Kelly to a season-ending ankle injury, it appeared as if the Bears’ season was lost as one of the Pac-12’s worst. That all changed last weekend with a shocking road sweep of Oregon State and Oregon, the Bears’ first road victories of the season.
Cal looked like a new basketball team, and heading back home to a matchup with a solid Colorado squad, the Bears looked to build their momentum just four games before the Pac-12 tournament. Instead, the Bears fell back to earth with a disappointing 70-62 loss to the 17-9 Buffaloes.
The game started evenly, with the teams trading baskets back and forth to open up the first half. Both offenses started hot, but neither could gain separation. Clutching on to a narrow 16-14 lead at the midway point of the half, Cal kept the matchup competitive early on.
The Bears began to build a larger lead once the clock ran below the 10-minute mark, capitalizing on lockdown defense to hold Colorado scoreless for more than five minutes and 0-9 on field goals. The blue and gold sparked a 10-0 run and headed to the locker room at halftime with a seemingly comfortable 35-28 lead.
That differential evaporated almost immediately once the second half commenced with a strong start by the Buffs and scoring drought for the Bears. A flurry of Colorado 3s and Cal misses forced the home team to take an early timeout and allowed the Buffs to erase the deficit. In the blink of an eye, the visitors were up 42-36 before the five-minute mark of the half had elapsed.
“We started the second half off terribly, didn’t have any energy, weren’t competing on defense and playing without purpose on offense,” said Anticevich.
The Bears attempted to stop the bleeding with a timeout, but Colorado only extended its lead to 54-43 with fewer than 10 minutes to go. Cal could never get much closer than that as the Buffs maintained this distance and cruised to an 8-point victory.
The Bears offered balanced scoring, with three players scoring in double digits: Grant Anticevich, Jalen Celestine and Kuany Kuany. But what they offered in balance they lacked in star power –– No Bear scored more than 11 points. In other words, it was a night where Kelly’s absence was truly felt.
Nowhere was that clearer than on the boards, where Colorado held a 42-29 rebounding advantage.
“Tonight was the first night where we really missed Andre (Kelly),” said head coach Mark Fox. “We got stuck in a drought and it really would have been nice to have his big body to throw it to and get us a basket or draw a foul.
The other difference-maker in the game was free-throw shooting. The Bears actually scored more buckets and more 3s than the Buffs, but a 21-6 edge from the charity stripe gave Colorado the victory. The trio of Jabari Walker, K.J. Simpson and Evan Battey carried the load for the Buffs, scoring 19, 19 and 18 points, respectively.
The Bears won’t have much time to rest as they bounce back into action Saturday against 9-16 Utah at Haas Pavilion. The silver lining? Utah is one of only two teams sitting below the Bears in the Pac-12 standings.
Thursday night was a setback to be sure, but it perhaps offered the clearest look into the realities of Cal this season –– a good enough team to keep things competitive and occasionally pull off surprising upsets, yet not quite ready to consistently compete with the Pac-12’s best.