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First half dooms Bears in 73-66 NIT loss to CSUB

Cal missed Jabari Bird and Ivan Rabb due to injury

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament-California vs Oregon State Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

I have a confession to make: I caught myself trying to turn off the television 11 minutes into the Bears’ Tuesday night matchup with 23-9 Cal State Bakersfield. I immediately thought better of it, because let’s face it: the sooner I wrote this thing, the sooner I could get to bed. And I like to sleep! Still, I considered that emotional reaction an indication that I’m not dead inside even though I’ve traded in my foam finger for a keyboard. The fact is that shorthanded Cal ended its season with a whimper, so let’s get to the nuts and bolts of the 73-66 loss at Haas Pavilion.

It was widely known that Jabari Bird’s concussion, suffered during Friday’s game against Oregon, would keep him out against the Roadrunners. However, the announcement that a foot injury had also sidelined Ivan Rabb was a bombshell. The Bears were counting on him to pick up the slack in Bird’s absence. Suffice it to say, all of my worst fears were realized in the first half. At least to the extent that anyone worries about a thing like the National Invitation Tournament.

This year’s NIT features a couple of odd quirks with respect to the rules. Each half is divided in two segments, and any team fouling five or more times in a segment gets to watch its opponent shoot two free throws. Also, the shot clock begins at 20 seconds any time the ball is inbounded in the front court. Apparently the Bears didn’t like the idea of being guinea pigs and gained their freedom at the final buzzer.

After the opening tip, a couple of Charlie Moore turnovers did not set a positive tone. Dedrick Basile cashed in for an uncontested layup for the first points of the game. Bakersfield’s Moataz Aly didn’t score in the game, but he got his first of three blocks in the early going.

Even when adjusted for their missing talent, Cal had a poor game. That’s frankly an understatement when applied to the first 20 minutes. The Bears made just four field goals by going 17% from the field, adding nine points from the charity stripe. They trailed 15-3 right out of the gate. I have to give the Roadrunners some credit for their insanely hot shooting that built an insurmountable lead. At times, it was the theater of the absurd. Basile made a three from so far behind the line that he was standing on part of the large bear logo that begins at center court. Bakersfield made fadeaways, they made turnaround shots, they made shots off awkward looking spin moves. In the first half, the damage could be summed up thus: 50% on field goals, 62% on three-pointers. The season stats, and even their production late in the game, suggest that the Roadrunners can’t keep it up. If they do, then look out Colorado State.

The halftime score was 44-19 in favor of the visitors and the time was creeping closer to 9:30 PM. Maybe a change of clothes would help? Well, when I came back to the living room the ESPN2 camera had panned to Rabb with an emphasis on his role as spectator. Just the latest indignity this game had in store.

Don Coleman had a mixed bag of a night. At times, he would make out of control plays, like ambitious layup attempts that ended up nowhere near the target. A Coleman turnover also led to fast break points from Justin Pride. Coleman did attack the basket, getting 16 free-throw attempts for his troubles. His 26 points also led the team by far, although he ended 7-19 from the field and 1-5 from behind the arc.

Grant Mullins was the only other Bear in double figures with 10 points, although Cole Welle made a nice appearance with six points and seven rebounds. Kameron Rooks grabbed a half dozen points at the foul line, while Stephen Domingo got his with a pair of treys.

Even finishing at the rim was a sore spot. Kingsley Okoroh was shooting 51% this season, but he missed three straight attempts from close range on the same possession and failed to score in the game. I expected Moore to take the wheel like he did in the UC Irvine game, but he lost confidence early and his five field goal attempts resulted in zero points. CSUB was a strong defensive team this year, but Cal shot 33% from the field overall. That’s actually worse than their 37% from three-point land.

Not only were the Bears without their two biggest stars, they were forced to use players who rarely appear at all. That was especially true after Okoroh picked up four fouls far more quickly than Cuonzo Martin would have hoped. In addition to Welle, Roman Davis and Nick Hamilton put in appearances. Roger Moute a Bidias was a solid contributor in nonconference play, but tonight he was part of the starting lineup. He actually acquitted himself nicely, going a perfect 2-2 from distance and adding two foul shots for a total of eight points.

Cal converted 60% from the line, which was notable mostly because they managed 35 attempts. It’s true that this team made just a shade over 66% on the season, but I will venture that the Bears didn’t leave 14 points on the table in a single game too often. Rabb would have helped in the rebounding department, but his absence alone doesn’t explain Bakersfield’s 39-33 advantage in that category.

Thanks to a late 11-3 run, the Bears trailed by as little as seven near the end. The final stretch still didn’t provide much in the way of relief. Even on a play in which Welle seemed to come away with a rebound, he was fingered for a foul. After Shon Briggs missed a three, Brent Wrapp grabbed the offensive board, ran some clock, and drained his next attempt from long range. On the ensuing possession, both Domingo and Welle missed close looks. Naturally, the Roadrunners answered with an immediate Briggs three-pointer. There were just way too many shots of the Bakersfield bench celebrating. Here’s one such sequence: a Jaylin Airington miss, followed by Basile corralling the rebound and Wrapp drawing a shooting foul. Wrapp would end with 11 points. Basile led his squad with 18 points; Briggs ended with 17 and Damiyne Durham scored 13.

Bird and Rabb deserved better than the injuries that kept them out, but the Bears end the season at 21-13 nonetheless. It was a bad night for a lot of favored home teams in the NIT as Tuesday also featured losses by Utah, Alabama, and Clemson. At this rate, it’s hard to know who will be left standing for the March 30 final at Madison Square Garden. I suppose that everyone will be too busy watching the NCAA Tournament anyway.