Tonight Cal welcomed in a UCLA team coming off one of the most stunning defeats ever by a Bruins team in Pauley Pavilion. After blowing a 22 point lead, the Bruins surrendered a game winning three-pointer to Utah’s Parker Van Dyke to cap off the ultimate collapse. The question everyone had, given the disarray surrounding the program, was how UCLA would look tonight. How would they get up for a road game against a winless Cal team?
That question was answered soon enough as the Bruins went scoreless in the first five minutes against a Cal team allowing conference foes to shoot 53% against them this season. It was bad enough that head coach Murry Bartow pulled the entire starting lineup in the first three minutes. The Bears jumped to a fast start offensively but struggled to produce as the game progressed. Cal’s much maligned zone defense stifled the Bruins forcing 13 of 19 UCLA turnovers in the first half. Darius McNeil had five steals tonight picking up where he left off the last time he played UCLA when he forced seven. Cal led by as many as 10 in the first half and finished it on a positive note with a Grant Anticevich tip-in to notch a 34-25 halftime lead.
It was such a positive start for the Bears, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. The first half was choppy which favored the Bears against a Bruins team that wants to play at a quick tempo. UCLA’s uber-talented point guard Jaylen Hands was out of sorts and the Bruins could not get out of their own way settling for quick shots, making sloppy passes, and not dominating the boards as much as expected.
The Bears managed a promising start to the second half as well until UCLA freshman David Singleton replaced Hands off the bench and hit three consecutive three-pointers to make it a one score game. From there, it was back and forth. Connor Vanover had another solid offensive performance and played a larger role defensively than any game prior. He made wise use of his five fouls and sent Bruins freshman center Moses Brown to the line frequently where he finished just two of nine.
Vanover, McNeil, and Justice Sueing carried the load on the offensive end while Paris Austin, Matt Bradley, and Juhwan Harris-Dyson struggled to convert. For UCLA, it was the Kris Wilkes show as he erupted for 27 points and recurrently had an answer to put them in front. Cal led 59-55 with two minutes left when Singleton and Wilkes converted consecutive three-pointers to put the Bruins up two. Bradley tied it back up at the free throw line with one minute left and did it once more countering another Wilkes three-pointer with one of his own. Bradley struggled from the floor tonight but put together clutch shots in a competitive ballgame.
Overtime was a disappointment for the Cal Bears. Cal struggled to create strong possessions and the Bruins won the game at the charity stripe. Vanover missed two key free throws inside the final minute to effectively seal the game for the Bruins.
Overall this felt like the defensive version of the Stanford loss. There was hope that Cal would finally win one, but it always feels inevitable they will come up short. The hope is that Cal can build on this defensive performance and mirror it going forward with hopes that the offense can shoot at a higher percentage. A home loss to any team in this conference, however, is not a performance to hang your hat on as Cal remains winless in a very down season in the Pac 12 Conference.