What an evening it was at Haas pavilion. The atmosphere was electric as #12 Virginia rolled into Berkeley hoping to put an end to the Bears 27 game home win streak. The Bears were looking for their own revenge against a tough defensive opponent who narrowly squeaked out a win against Cal just one year ago. It is hard to accurately portray the environment at Haas and considering the students were out of school, the arena was pleasantly packed with fans donning white Cal Christmas shirts. Virginia to its credit traveled extremely well and their fans made their presence known throughout the contest.
The first half started off as many expected it to with both teams showcasing what they do best, defense. Seven minutes into the half, neither team had broken through offensively and a defensive showdown was quickly mounting. The Bears had a couple of consecutive possessions where the ball simply would not go down or the Bears would barely miss too hard off the glass. Those early unconverted possessions would eventually come back to haunt the Bears late in the second half.
In what has become a staple at Haas pavilion, perhaps making the win streak all that more impressive, were the referees’ inexplicable tendencies to call every hand check foul imaginable against the Bears. The game would continue its back and forth trend with each team answering anytime the other scored a basket. Just before the half, Grant Mullins would get hit in the face on the low block during a foul shot and the refs would sit on their whistle. Treated to a loud chorus of boos the teams as well as the referees would look to improve their performance coming out of halftime with the score tied 22-22.
Cal came blazing out of the gate in the second half, pushing their lead to five nearly immediately. Singer would push that lead to six on a nice layup before Virginia mounted a small comeback of their own, lowering the deficit to just one in a matter of seconds. One of the most memorable plays of the game came early in the second half when Charlie Moore found Ivan Rabb on an alley oop dunk.
With thirteen minutes to go the atmosphere was taken to the next level as the two teams traded possessions and the pavilion reached a fever pitch after a massive Moute block on a Virginia fast break. Cal then quickly found themselves in a hole after a series of turnovers and wasted possessions, staring at a nine point deficit with 12 minutes left to play. The Bears would then mount their own mini comeback.
Kingsley Okoroh would start the Bears off with a free throw and then field his own rebound and later finish down low to decrease the deficit to six. Sam Singer would then cleanly pick the ball and take it the length of the floor before crossing over the Virginia defender and laying the ball in. The deficit moved to four and Virginia called timeout.
The next Virginia possession Cal would hold strong again and Jabari Bird would hit another big three to cut the deficit down to one. Haas pavilion at this point was going crazy. Virginia found themselves in some foul trouble quite early in the second half which meant handling Ivan Rabb was a very challenging task. Rabb would find his way to the line to tie the game but Virginia would jump back in the lead after another three pointer. Bird would answer yet again tying the game before Virginia would extend the lead once more.
In one of the strangest plays you will ever see, Cal was on a fast break and their pass hit the referee, bounced up in the air to Cal and Kingsley would finish down low to put the deficit back at one. Rabb would be fouled on the next Cal possession and the Bears were at the line with a chance to take the lead going into a media timeout.
Coming out of the break, the refs inexplicably would overturn the foul call and rule a shot clock violation, possession Virginia. The Cavaliers would then score on a well defended step back jumper before Singer would answer back with another huge basket.
The next Virginia possession Cal would lock down the Cavaliers and force a miss but the Bears could not get a handle on the basketball as it slipped out of bounds. This play would prove costly as the next possession Virginia would find their big man off the pick and roll for a three point play. Charlie Moore tried to answer back immediately with a deep three point attempt and barely missed. The Cavaliers would convert their next possession extending the lead to five before Jabari Bird hit a clutch three to bring it back to a one possession ball game. Alas Cal would foul, Virginia hit each free throw and the win simply wasn’t in the cards for the Bears yesterday evening. Final score: Virginia 56, Cal 52.
While the streak is over there are many positives to take away from this game. This team is still finding their rhythm on the court after early season injuries and the Bears need to find a way to get Grant Mullins more perimeter chances. The Bears will also need to find a way to exploit the double teams that Ivan Rabb will consistently see all year long as we close in on Pac-12 play.
The Bears hung extremely close to one of the better teams in the country and their defense is already looking like it could reach an elite level this season. If they can improve to become slightly more efficient with their offensive possessions, this team has the potential to outperform their Pac-12 record last season.