For the second time this season, the Bears entered halftime with a lead over Arizona State. Similar to the January 9th meeting between the two teams, Cal played a solid first half sparking some hope they could shock the conference with an upset road win. These hopes were denied by a Sun Devil team that played much better basketball in the second half to prolong their mission of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
Cal found a rhythm in the first half and the game went the way Wyking Jones would have wanted it to go. The pace was slower than what the Sun Devils wanted and the rebounding margin was surprisingly in the Bears favor. Arizona State is one of the top rebounding teams in the conference, yet Cal held their own despite their immense struggles on the boards this season. One critical piece to Cal’s first half success was the play of Grant Anticevich off the bench. The sophomore forward made some great passes, rebounded well, and hit a pair of threes to ignite the team. Additionally, Matt Bradley played very well leading all scorers with 23 points and ten rebounds in his first career double-double.
The Sun Devils rallied back with a vengeance in the second half knowing a loss to Cal would essentially eliminate their chances of an at-large tournament bid. Cal’s halftime lead was erased in the first three minutes behind a stellar second half performance by Arizona State. Freshman phenom Luguentz Dort was stellar on both ends of the floor and junior Rob Edwards continued his hot shooting with two critical three-point daggers at the nine minute mark to notch a double-digit lead.
It is foolish to feel good about another loss but this game was more watchable than most others. The Bears were surprisingly better defensively and on the glass today against one of the most athletic and physical teams in the conference. They played a solid enough first half on both ends of the floor to make me believe they might actually steal one in Tempe. There were a few instances where the ball movement was solid and coach Jones should heavily consider allocating more minutes to Grant Anticevich after a strong overall performance today. With just three more conference games, the dreaded 0-18 Pac 12 record might become a reality. Cal’s best opportunity to win a conference game is Saturday vs Washington State, though Ernie Kent’s Cougars are playing their best basketball of the season. Either way, we just all need to hope something will be done in the offseason to ensure we never experience another season as terrible as this one.