Fresh off of Christmas festivities, the Bears returned to the court with an unfamiliar item under their belt: a victory. Having finally captured that elusive first win of the season last week, their attention now turned to two games: Utah on Dec. 29 and Colorado on New Year’s Eve. Although the blue and gold fell to Utah in an ugly performance, they were able to bounce back in a historic way over Colorado to ring in the new year right and pick up their second victory of the season.
Coming into Thursday undefeated in the Pac-12 and with a record of 9-4, the Utes were looking to control this game from the start, and they did exactly that. Cal led for just two minutes, and an abysmal 32/14/20 shooting percentages in the first half led to a 27-18 deficit at the half for the Bears. Their shooting barely improved in the second half to 37% and 20% from the field and three, respectively, and finally, after going without a bucket for the final eight and a half minutes of play, the Bears lost an excruciating game, 58 to 43.
From top to bottom, the Bears were underwhelming: Kuany Kuany with 12 points was the only player to manage more than seven, and although DeJuan Clayton finally made his long-awaited return, the 2-10 shooting performance from the graduate guard was not one to remember. Amid the offensive woes, the defense provided a glimmer of hope, as Cal held the Utes to 40% shooting from the field and 16% from three. Alas, the offense was simply unable to capitalize on it.
“I thought our defense gave us a really good effort, but we didn’t help each other enough offensively to attack a defense as good as theirs,” said head coach Mark Fox.
The Bears couldn’t dwell on this loss long, as just two days later on New Year’s Eve, they returned to Haas Pavilion to take on Colorado. Holding a 9-5 record, the Buffaloes had a similar offensive resume as Utah. However, defensively, while Utah is first in the Pac-12 in points allowed, Colorado is 11th. Preying on those defensive deficiencies, the blue and gold struck.
Cal flipped the script from the Utah game; it took the lead two and a half minutes in and never relinquished it. With four minutes left in the game and a 21-point lead, the victory looked almost certain. A 19-4 run from the Buffaloes over the next three minutes struck fear in the hearts of Cal fans, but Cal free throws and the ruthless clock allowed the Bears to secure their second win of the season, 80-76.
The offensive show the blue and gold put on was astounding. The Bears put up a season-high 80 points while shooting 58% from the field and 54% from the field. That 58% field goal percentage was the highest from the Bears in a Pac-12 game since 2015. Senior guard Joel Brown stepped up in the absence of Devin Askew by scoring a career-high 21 points, freshman Grant Newell recorded his first career double-double and the rest of the starting lineup scored in double figures.
Following up on this impressive win, the Bears now look to Jan. 6, when their rivals from across the bay, Stanford, come into town. Stanford is 5-9 with an 0-4 record in the Pac-12 that’s even worse than Cal. As Stanford arrives at Haas Pavilion following two straight Pac-12 losses to Colorado and Utah, the Bears can catch the Cardinal reeling and are in a prime spot to rattle off two wins in a row. If they can become more consistent and play at a similar level to that of the Colorado game, things will soon be looking up for the blue and gold.