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Bears Hang Tough in Loss to Sun Devils

ASU 81 - Cal 73

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

In a 7-13 (1-6) season, the Bears are not playing for postseason glory this year. They are still theoretically playing for a win every time they step out on the court, but the reality is there will be a lot of losses this season, as this version of California basketball learns who they are and how to play at this level. Cal basketball is about the future, and playing now like they want to learn and prepare for big things in the future. That is the reason to take the court and compete at a high level, and (because we need to be reminded this year) the main reason to watch. To see what’s simmering.

It’s useless and discouraging, even through that lens, when the Bears come out unfocused, lacking energy, and roll over to their competition. Such stretches of basketball are valuable, wasted opportunities to learn how to play at the D1 level. Being realistic, even when Cal comes out with commitment to what they are doing, they will still often end up behind on the scoreboard, but they will start developing into better basketball players, individually and collectively.

In the conference season, the record on that score has not been horrible. The first halves against Stanford, USC, UCLA; the whole game against Washington State. Those were poor. Those were wasted opportunities. But the rest of Pac-12 play, and the entire stretch of basketball this week. It’s been pretty good. First year head coach Wyking Jones may have lost some of the fan base. He has certainly lost most of the vocal internet community. But he clearly has not lost this team. They’re still playing for him.

On a night honoring Jason Kidd, a Cal great who was the very model of alert intensity, the Bears had a game plan, an attitude, and they stuck with both for the entire 40 minutes. Sure, they ended up behind on the scoreboard. The reeling Sun Devils took a step toward righting their ship, leaving Haas Pavilion with an 81-73 victory. But the young Bears left with hard fought and well-earned experience. The knowledge that, on a good night, they can compete. And a nice bobblehead.

  • ASU has serious holes up front. They were demolished by Stanford’s front court on Wednesday evening. Cal’s game plan coming in was to use their own size advantage to attack the Sun Devils in the paint. Hello, Marcus Lee. After being limited by foul trouble much of the conference season, Marcus was freed from his cage tonight and he beasted all over the ASU front court. Time and again, the Bears threw post entries or lobs into Marcus, and time and again he finished, or rotated the ball sharply. 38 minutes. 10-13 shooting, 23 points, 8 boards, 3 blocks, 3 assists, and only 2 fouls. He nearly fouled out everyone in a maroon uniform. And his gravity got open looks for teammates on the perimeter. An ugly 3-10 from the line was his only blemish on the scoresheet. The Bears’ ability to get the ball into the big man, and stick with that game plan most of the game, resulted in the first point per possession offensive output in 5 games.
  • The Bears took care of the ball. 9 turnovers (12%) against a team that turns the opposition over 20% of the time indicates focus and purpose. It shows growth.
  • After 3 weeks of zone defense, Coach Jones decided to open with, and primarily stick with, man to man defense for this contest. It didn’t make much of a difference, as ASU was about at expectation efficiency wise, but hey, something to talk about.
  • Wanting to go big, and emphasize defense, Don Coleman came off the bench in this one, with Kingsley, Marcus, Juhwan, Darius, and Justice starting. Don ended up with 29 minutes anyway, and those six players are clearly still the heart of the Bear rotation for now. We saw a few minutes from Nick, Roman, and Deschon. We did not see Grant Anticevich on the floor this week.

It’s not glamorous, digging out nuggets of optimism amidst a 1-6 start to conference play. But coming out focused means something. Executing a game plan means something. We have learned this year that these things cannot be taken for granted. And if they continue, there will be some wins in the Bears’ future.

I’m looking forward to it.