When one player scores 23 points on 11 shots, your team stands a really good chance of winning.
When that player is a junior who previously averaged just 2.7 points/game over his career, well, just sit back, relax, and enjoy a really fun win.
Grant Anticevich was that guy tonight. He nailed 3s on Cal’s first two possessions, passed his previous career high (13) before halftime, and missed all of two shots on the night. One of those shots he immediately rebounded and put back into the basket. He led Cal with 9 rebounds and 3 assists, and could essentially do no wrong all night long.
In fact, the Bears as a team started off red hot on offense, scoring on their first 8 offensive possessions to build an early 11 point lead. But Cal Baptist spent the rest of the 1st half gradually chipping away with improved offense of their own, and the half ended in a 40-40 tie.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Bears didn’t play a ton of great defense in the first half. Cal Baptist didn’t shoot particularly well, but they had Cal frequently out of position and drew their fair share of free throws while earning themselves a bunch of clean looks from deep.
But again Cal stiffened in the 2nd half, nearly holding Cal Baptist to half as many points in the 2nd half as they scored in the 1st. Some of that was Baptist cooling from the field - while Cal’s defense was improved and more shots were contested, it wasn’t so much better to completely explain Baptist’s 2-16 performance shooting from three. But as per usual, some of it was just better execution and better effort.
After the game, it sounds like Mark Fox wasn’t particularly pleased with Cal’s performance, focusing on Cal’s lost 1st half lead and generally on 1st half defense. But to everybody’s credit, Cal came out and put the hammer down in the 2nd half.
Cal Baptist, despite playing in just their 2nd season at the D1 level, is a somewhat credible opponent. They have plenty of experience back from a team that finished right in the middle of the WAC. They’re probably going to have a pretty crummy defense, so it’s good that Cal treated them as such. But their offense is solid, so shutting them down in the 2nd half is a solid performance.
- Matt Bradley, again with an easy 16 points, and without getting looks from deep. He’s really expanded his scoring repertoire, and tonight he did damage by drawing contact and getting to the line.
- Juhwan Harris-Dyson barely played thanks to foul trouble, but his defensive impact in his limited minutes was pronounced, and I think much of Cal’s first half troubles can in part be blamed on his absence.
- Cal seemed to really want to get Lars Theimann involved in pick and rolls, with mixed results. Hopefully this is just a matter of him catching up to the speed of the college game/chemistry with Cal’s guards.
- Cal’s superior athleticism/conditioning really showed late in the game. My wife’s main observation was how utterly exhausted some of Baptist’s players looked during the last 10 minutes of the game - they were done chasing Cal’s speedy guards around all night long.
- D.J. Thorpe got his first minutes and points late in the game. Kuany Kuany dressed, but didn’t enter the game.
And so the Bears stay undefeated. They are very very likely to stay that way with Prairie View A&M up next at home on Monday in their last tune up prior to the 2K classic proper in New York. All in all, these games have felt like a reasonable warm up for the much bigger challenge of Duke and Georgetown/Texas the week after. Mark Fox will probably feel pretty good about his team’s offensive performance, and is publicly quite concerned about Cal’s defense.
But from the Cal fan perspective . . . this game is Cal’s 2nd win by 20+ points in the last three seasons, and the other one came against an awful, 6-24 Cal St. Northridge. Mark Fox is absolutely right to be critical, to be looking for areas of improvement. I’m just happy to see Cal easily pulling away from a competent opponent.