At long last, Cal’s 2022-2023 men’s basketball season has come to an end. In a game that was truly reflective of their year, the Bears just did not have it in them to compete with Washington State. Playing the same matchup as last year, Cal once again fell flat, getting knocked out of the Pac-12 tournament by a score of 69-52.
It’s safe to say that Cal fans — the sane ones, that is — heading into this game already knew it would be a long shot for the Bears to pull off an upset. Regardless, the previous game between the Cougars and the Bears a few weeks ago sparked some hope, considering the valiant effort the blue and gold put up to only lose by 6 points.
These hopes were crushed immediately. Lars Thiemann tied the game up at 2-2 a minute in, and that was the last time the Cougars relinquished the lead. Cal’s deficit jumped to 9 just six minutes into the game, as Washington State picked apart the Cal defense and stifled any offense the Bears tried to muster up. The lead ballooned to double digits at the nine-minute mark and stayed that way for the rest of the game.
The Cougars were dicing up the Bears’ defense on the inside and outside.
“We played them 10 days ago and really did a nice job defending their 3-point shooting, and we weren’t as good in that area today. When we did force misses (in) the first half, they just really pounded us on the glass,” said then-head coach Mark Fox in the postgame press conference.
All of Washington State’s points in the first half, except for one single midrange jumper, were either in the paint or from the 3-point line. Led by TJ Bamba’s 17 points, five Cougars scored in double figures and Washington State absolutely killed the Bears on the glass 43-29.
For the Bears, the most promising performance came from redshirt sophomore forward Monty Bowser, who dropped a career-high 19 points with three 3-point shots. He’ll likely be one of the major players for this Cal team next season, along with freshman forward Grant Newell, who was out for this game with an illness, sophomore guard Sam Alajiki and freshman big ND Okafor.
As a whole, however, Cal significantly struggled to consistently generate offense and get stops. There was some promise when coach Fox implemented a press toward the end of the game, but at that point, it was too little too late. When asked why he didn’t make the change sooner in the game, Fox cited the team’s lack of depth as the main roadblock.
“We just have no depth … you start extending your defense like that, you’re going to have to start substituting more often,” Fox said in the postgame presser.
Ultimately, it’s just yet another ‘what if?’ in this Cal season filled with question marks, frustrations and disappointment. The Bears finished the season with an all-time low 3-29 record, going 2-18 in Pac-12 play and ending the year on a 16-game losing streak.
It wasn’t all gloomy for Cal in Las Vegas. According to sources at the tournament, the best mascot in town, Oski, won the Pac-12 mascot musical chairs competition! At this point, Cal fans will take any win they can get.
Considering the immediate firing of coach Fox the next day, perhaps it’ll be new leadership that can take the Bears to the promised land, or at least a .500 season. Until then, fans must be content with watching other teams battle in March Madness. The offseason starts now; the Cal faithful can only hope next season will be better than this one.