The sky is falling.
The Supreme Court of the United States, the British Monarchy and Cal basketball’s losing streak: It was actually the last of the three — not the institutions that are designed as bastions of stability in a fickle, volatile society — that remained constant over the last nine and a half months. That losing run has finally been snapped.
After 15 consecutive losses, a streak that etched Cal into the college basketball history books with the worst start to a season by a major conference team, the Bears have won a basketball game.
The team honored with having dealt the final loss in Cal’s historically poor run is Santa Clara, who defeated the Bears on Sunday.
The Broncos executed a predictable game plan with remarkable ease — their offense ran through sophomore forward Brandin Podziemski, who leads the team in points, rebounds and assists. Cal, unprepared against Santa Clara’s offensive linchpin, allowed him to put up 20 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists and propel the Broncos past the Bears in a 71-62 victory.
Most concerning for Cal was junior guard Devin Askew’s foot injury that forced him to leave the game. Askew is the Bears’ leading scorer this season, and the beating heart of the Cal offense. His injury ruled him out for Cal’s next game against UT Arlington.
So when the winless Bears took the court Wednesday against the 5-7 Mavericks, the odds were overwhelmingly stacked against them. But they did the impossible — they scored more points than the opponent during a 40 minute basketball contest. The blue and gold stepped up to deliver a cohesive, comprehensive performance and blow out the UT Arlington at Haas Pavilion.
Cal was keyed in defensively to make up for its offensive shortcomings, flying around screens and making quick rotations. The Bears’ suffocating defense held the Mavericks to poor shooting looks: The visitors recorded a 28.6% field goal percentage in the first half, which they could only marginally increase in the second to 34.5%.
Offensively, seniors Lars Thiemann, Kuany Kuany and Joel Brown all reached double figures, generating the scoring impetus to win the game. Brown and Thiemann’s combination play off pick-and-rolls was particularly lethal: Brown scored a career-high 17 points, and Thiemann contributed 17 of his own. The suddenly-authoritative Cal offense stretched its lead to 28 with 3:25 left in the second half — uncharacteristic for the blue and gold who normally struggle to hold on to leads for more than the game’s opening seconds.
The Bears won 73-51 at the final whistle. After 15 consecutive losses, Cal realized the utterly foreign concept of a win.
“Everything stays the same,” said Brown. “Just continuing ways to find better and keep pushing. Now that we won, we can’t be complacent. It’s not the Super Bowl — we have to build on this. It definitely changes the morale within the group, but we just have to stay even-keeled.”
It is true that one win is not worth much apart from resolving the stinging winless run. Now, staring down the barrel of conference play and therefore increasingly stiff competition, Cal will desperately need Askew’s return if it hopes to leave its previous failures in the dust.
“I’m a big picture guy,” said head coach Mark Fox. “We still have some major issues to overcome. We have a lot of season left, a lot of challenges to address. But I’m really happy for the young people.”
Still, the Bears would do best to stop to appreciate this one. Historic wins are few and far between in sports. For Cal, wins are few and far between — the next may not be for a while, and who knows what the world will look like then.