It was a rough start to the Redemption Tour as the Bears found themselves down 12-2 before three minutes had elapsed. In a familiar scene to Cal fans, the Bears struggled to run their offense and took turns either missing contested jumpers or turning it over. In an unfamiliar scene to anyone who has followed Pac-12 basketball this year, the Buffaloes sank deep jumpers from all over the court.
Monty was forced to call an early timeout to stop the bleeding. But once settled down, the Bears focused their energy on tighter defense. As the Buffs went cold from outside, Cal was able to go on an 8-3 run to close the gap back to 5.
But the offense stalled as Monty turned to his bench. Once again, turnovers were a serious issue and helped fuel the Colorado transition game. The lead grew back to nine by the five minute mark.
Cal battled back as Crabbe came alive from deep. Unfortunately, it was the defense that let us down as the Buffs were able to drive it through the lane repeatedly for layups and dunks.
It looked bad when stalwart Harper Kamp had to sit down after picking up his second foul on a questionable moving screen. It looked worse as Jorge continued to struggle with missing shots. And we've just blocked all those bad turnovers from our short-term memory.
Yet the Bears refused to hang their heads or slump their shoulders. The defense picked up again and started turning back the Buffalo drives to the hoop. And when Cobbs went on a flurry of his own with five quick points, Cal was somehow down just one point at half, 28-27.
You had to like the spirit that the Bears displayed despite some sloppy passes and missed assignments on defense. Unlike the last game at Colorado where the whole team looked frustrated and searching for answers, this time the guys looked determined.
The 1st half saw Crabbe flying from the weakside to swat shots and Robert Thurman doing his best Jorge impression as he dove into the stands to deflect a ball off a nearby Buff player. Effort and heart were on clear display. But would the execution on both ends catch up?
If not for the uncharacteristic turnovers, this would be a different game entirely. There was the sense that this Bear team was working itself into form and about to find it's rhythm.
As the second half tipped, Cal shot out of the gates with a ferocious charge and a 6-2 run to seize a four point lead. Once again, Monty made the tactical decision to push the tempo in an attempt to get easier shots before the Buffs could set themselves.
Unfortunately, this Colorado team has more speed and isn't weighted down by excessive facial hair like the hapless Furds. They quickly adapted to the fast pace and counter-punched their way back to an even game.
The game took on the character of a heavyweight fight as the two teams exchanged body blows. Almost as if by gentleman's agreement, the two stingy defenses relaxed as both sides took turns scoring.
Jorge poured in six straight points as the Bear offense finally looked to be coming alive. Unfortunately, ball security reared its ugly head yet again as Smith stalled the next two possession with consecutive turnovers. Colorado was quick to take advantage with a 7-0 run that gave them a five point edge, 47-42 with ten minutes to play.
Jorge battled gamely with some incredibly tough baskets off of Beast Mode drives to the basket. But the Buffs just kept scoring and used a 19-4 run to extend the lead to thirteen, 59-46, at the four minute mark.
Was this it? Did the Bears have enough in the tank for another rally?
Allen Crabbe thought so. After hitting a three to cut it to ten, he crashed into the sidelines again stealing the ball and forcing a Buffalo foul on David Kravish. Two clutch free throws from the true frosh and it was down to eight.
Cal fouled while trying to play pressure defense on each of the next two possessions giving Colorado four free throws. But Crabbe responded with five points of his own. And the lead was seven with two minutes to play.
But in what may have been the pivotal play in the waning moments, great Cal defense for 30 seconds was wiped away when Colorado's Carlon Brown went over the back to grab the offensive board. Even though Cobbs went sprawling, the refs held their whistles only to call a touch foul moments later to give the Buffs two more free throws.
Although a nice backdoor pass to Kravish cut it back to seven moments later, the Bears could get no closer. When the formalities were over, it was 70-59 Colorado.
Maybe it was tired legs in the end. The lack of backcourt help off the bench was a particularly crippling disadvantage. Maybe the guys hadn't quite recovered from the late season slump. Maybe the Buffs just made the key plays down the stretch.
Even so, it was a tough and determined effort. You can wince at the mistakes and grimace over the missed shots, but you can't look at your Cal team without still feeling a sense of pride.
If nothing else, seeing Jorge put the team on his back during a second half rally was worth the price of admission.
Thanks for another great regular season, gentlemen. Here's hoping you'll need your dancing shoes this Sunday. Go Bears!