Who saw this coming? Who saw 5-22 California upsetting 22-5 Washington? Tonight, Cal shocked the Pac 12 Conference upsetting the only team seemingly solidified in the NCAA Tournament field of 68.
This season has been more dreadful than Cal fans feared it might be. That means a lot following last season’s eight win campaign, but tonight is a night to celebrate. Tonight is a night to commemorate a group of young men who have continued to give an honorable effort despite discouraging results. The reason Cal fans have lobbied for the firing of head coach Wyking Jones is not due to the personnel on the court but because of the shockingly substandard record accompanying it.
Tonight that cast of Cal Bears was an entirely different animal. The way they shared the ball against the undisputed top defensive team in the conference was astounding. One of the key issues this season has been ball movement, yet the Bears amounted 22 assists tonight on 11 turnovers facing Mike Hopkins’ daunting 2-3 zone. The Bears shot it well tonight but the consistent looks they pieced together accompanied by their relentless effort is what emerged them victorious tonight.
It was a hot start for both teams. Huskies’ guards Jaylen Nowell and David Crisp were red hot from the tip and aimed to drown Cal’s hopes early. The Bears kept fighting, however, and they found a consistent rhythm against the Huskies’ challenging 2-3 zone. Darius McNeil’s hot perimeter shooting accompanied by Connor Vanover’s shooting presence in the middle of the zone propelled a 45 point half for the Bears. That was only enough to build a one point lead, but the effort displayed in the second half is what should animate Cal fans.
The first half performance may intrigue Cal basketball fans, but it was also one we have seen before from this team. The sterling ball movement continued, however, and an added dedication to defense and rebounding came with it in the second half. Namely, Justice Sueing is the unsung hero of the night. The young man had two critical blocks to accompany the most complete outing of his career. Paris Austin had nine assists against two turnovers. McNeil and Vanover combined for 37 points. Grant Anticevich had another very efficient night. Everybody seemed to know their role for the first time this season. It felt like the team we were waiting all year for.
No it was not perfect, but it was as perfect as one could imagine from this team. They knocked off a solidified Washington team full of upperclassmen and did it while the Huskies shot it well from deep. This game will drive Huskies’ fans insane, but the bottom line is that those Cal Bears earned it. Congrats to this group of resilient young men and let nights like this roll on like you Bears.