The California Golden Bears men’s basketball squad had been on a good run heading into today’s appearance in the Pac-12 Tournament. Prior to arriving in Las Vegas, Cal had won three straight games after a previously winless conference slate. The Pac-12 Networks broadcast pointed out the statistical improvements during conference play:
- 47% field-goal percentage during the Pac-12 wins vs. 39% in the conference losses
- +5.0 scoring margin vs. -14.5 prior
- 42% field goals allowed vs. 51% earlier
However, the Bears could not keep up the surge this afternoon against the 5th seeded Colorado Buffaloes who came into the contest at 19-11 compared to the 8-22 record for Cal. A lot of this was due to Colorado’s advantage on the glass. They collected 40 boards while the Bears grabbed 19.
Cal started this contest well enough, getting out to a 6-0 lead that included this sequence from Darius McNeill:
Justice Sueing would feed Connor Vanover for an easy layup as well. However, McKinley Wright kept Colorado in it with some big three-pointers early on. He would finish with 18 points. Later, Paris Austin would enjoy the fruits of his labor during a similar fast break play:
Bears capitalizing on 8 turnovers by the Buffs thus far. @ParisAustin30 with the takeaway we've got 8 of our 14 off Colorado TOs.— Cal Basketball (@CalMBBall) March 13, 2019
Cal 14, Colorado 17 at 6:31 in the first half.
: @Pac12Network pic.twitter.com/p7cMiWcT4r
Like several other Cal players, Vanover shot inconsistently in the early going but did bury this tough one from long range:
Still, the Bears had their share of sloppy moments. Several shots missed badly and the Bears committed 10 turnovers which was a slight improvement over Colorado’s 12 in the first half. To their credit, Cal only turned the ball over once in the second half whereas the Buffaloes ended with a whopping 23. Whether a bad connection on a pass, an offensive foul, or a dribble off the foot, Wyking Jones must have known that his team needed to execute better. Evan Battey scored all four of his points near the end of the first half, and the stanza ended with the Buffs ahead 28-22. That didn’t seem too bad considering that Cal hit just 32% of its field goal attempts.
In the second half, Justice Sueing added a play to his highlight reel:
Later, Justice brought Cal within two points at 37-35 with something I dubbed the “Sueing Shimmy” as he spun to the hoop and eluded multiple defenders before laying the ball in. Nevertheless, Colorado rode an 8-0 run to a double digit lead as Cal failed to score for nearly six minutes. D’Shawn Schwartz tormented California by going 3-5 from downtown en route to 11 points. Overall, only Colorado’s Shane Gatling got into serious foul trouble as he was charged with four personal fouls.
Matt Bradley’s free throws would keep the Bears from falling out of reach, and he led the team in scoring with 17. Other than the glass, Colorado’s main edge would be in terms of shooting, converting 43.5% overall and 40% from three-point land. Cal actually shot better from distance (36.4%) than on field goals overall (34%). The Bears managed just 7 assists compared with Colorado’s 10.
Then, things got interesting near the end:
BIG TIME BRADLEY.— Cal Basketball (@CalMBBall) March 13, 2019
It's a 3-point game with 1 minute remaining. pic.twitter.com/N9ZgfNXi6o
Unfortunately, the Bears couldn’t get over the top during crunch time as Austin dribbled out of bounds with 45 seconds left and his team trailing by only three. Given a chance to tie in the closing seconds, Bradley settled for a fadeaway three-point attempt and Vanover was forced to foul Tyler Bey who ended with 11 rebounds.
If nothing else, the Bears played competitive basketball over the last four matchups. Regrettably, they got zero scoring from the bench today (Andre Kelly, Grant Anticevich, and Juhwan Harris-Dyson all appeared), while Colorado’s Daylen Kountz chipped in 8 points all by himself in reserve. In this case, the frustrating part is that slightly better attention to detail might have set up a showdown with Oregon State instead of a season-ending trip home.