Call it a moment of reckoning. After leading the Santa Clara Broncos 14-0 to start the game, Cal found itself ahead by a mere two points with roughly six minutes remaining in the second half. Matt Bradley responded by drawing a foul on Josh Martin and converting the free throws. On the next possession, he drove for a layup and the foul, once again charged to Martin. He made that free throw too, adding another basket following a Justice Sueing steal. The scoreboard read 61-58 before Bradley received a pass from Paris Austin and sank a three-pointer. After Tahj Eaddy misfired from behind the arc for Santa Clara, Bradley pounced on the rebound and flew down the court for a layup. Eaddy missed again, and Bradley converted another easy hoop. The freshman accounted for a whopping 14 straight Cal points when the Golden Bears needed them most. Considering that he scored 18 overall, give Bradley a major bonus for clutch performance in the 78-66 California win.
The game began with Santa Clara living up to its #241 national ranking. While they managed to win at San Jose State on Saturday, the Broncos are now 1-5 and were held scoreless for nearly eight minutes to begin the first half. By the time Josip Vrankic ended the misery, the score was 14-2 Cal and Santa Clara had missed six prior field goals as well as a pair of free throws. Even uglier: they committed seven turnovers before even getting on the board. The Broncos would end the game with 22 such miscues which helped Cal improve to 2-3.
Meanwhile, the Cal offense wasn’t exactly clicking, but a balanced attack helped build a lead the Bears would need badly later in the contest. Andre Kelly scored first with a pretty reverse layup, and Darius McNeill would follow by blowing past his man for another easy score. With 14:34 remaining in the half, that’s all the scoring either team had mustered. After Bradley drained a pair of free throws, Austin scored on an elbow jumper. McNeill then went coast to coast to make the score 10-0, provoking a timeout from Santa Clara head coach Herb Sendek.
The Broncos would break out of their deep funk a bit and the halftime score was 31-19 Bears. Still, the signs seemed more positive than not. Connor Vanover swished a three. Kelly took advantage of his size to score inside. Roman Davis missed his only shot but got on the floor for seven minutes. Juhwan Harris-Dyson used what seemed like a cheat code to steal the ball from both Vrankic and Martin, leading to a pair of gimme baskets.
At the horn, only Eaddy, Vrankic, and freshman Keshawn Justice had scored for the visitors. Also, Sueing did his best to reach the stratosphere.
As the second half began, Martin took advantage of a defensive switch by Bradley to slam home an emphatic dunk. However, Bradley made up for it on the other end by pulling up behind the free-throw line for a jumper. As it turns out, he was just getting started. Sueing was just 3-10 from the floor overall, but he grabbed an offensive board for a dunk and later received a dish from Austin to tack on a three-pointer. Austin then provided his own offense, stretching the Cal lead to 37-25 with 16:45 to play.
Martin finished the game with 7 points and Henrik Jadersten chipped in with two field goals, but I doubt this game would have gotten so close without the contributions of Zeke Richards. The freshman from Oak Park scored 9 in only eight minutes of play, including a pair of slams that fired up the Santa Clara bench. A 7-0 run capped by a Trey Wertz jump shot brought the Broncos to within 53-52 with 7:03 remaining. Not coincidentally, Wertz scored all 16 of his points in the final 20 minutes of play. Then, the Bradley takeover went into full swing.
Bradley provided the big explosion, but Cal spread the scoring around and featured five total players in double figures. Kelly and Austin both had 13 points and 4 rebounds. Sueing scored 11 points with 6 boards, 2 steals, and a block. Harris-Dyson was an efficient 6-7 off the bench, good for 12 points. Even Jacobi Gordon contributed an important three-point play. The Bears shot 53.7% from the field compared to 45.8% for the Broncos and more significantly limited themselves to 10 turnovers.
The Bears will need better overall execution if they want to win games like Saturday’s showdown with Saint Mary’s in Moraga. Nevertheless, the glimpses of raw ability we are seeing in freshmen Bradley and Kelly paint a potentially rosier picture for the future. It doesn’t hurt that Harris-Dyson appears to be operating at full steam and Austin gets to do more than just attend practice this season.