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Bradley, Bears shoot the lights out to beat Buffs

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The Bears grab an upset win over the top 25 Buffs and continue climbing up the rungs of the Pac-12 standings

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Despite what some wry cynics might say, what makes sports endlessly fascinating to me is the chaos that can occur over a comparatively short single game.

After Thursday’s game, Colorado sits at 2nd in the conference in eFG% in Pac-12 play. Only Stanford has, over the nearly-complete conference schedule, shot the ball better than the Buffs. The Bears are still dead last in the conference. 53.3 vs. 44.8.

But over 40 minutes, those numbers don’t have to mean a whole lot. On Thursday night, Cal put up an eFG% of 54.6 to Colorado’s 45.9. For one night in Haas Pavilion, Cal shot like the best shooting team in the conference, and Colorado shot like the worst.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide if this was some kind of watershed moment in the hopeful rebirth of the Cal basketball program, or simply a classic example of one team getting their best shooting night on the same day another team has their worst. All I know is that I like it when my team’s shots make the net ripple and the other team dabbles in the fine art of brick-and-mortar.

Matt Bradley gets a 2nd banana

As AKBear rightly pointed out in the gamethread, Kareem South finally finding his shot may have been the crucial ingredient for a shockingly comfortable win.

Matt Bradley is still the clear cut MVP, and he tortured Colorado every time they gave him a sliver of space, and even sometimes when he didn’t. When Matt’s hitting one legged step back fadeaways, you’re in deep trouble.

But Bradley has had high scoring, efficient performances in multiple Cal losses this year. His offense is necessary for a Cal win, but not by itself sufficient. Somebody else needs to step up. And against the Buffs it was Kareem South, who hit a couple of tough runners early then found his missing 3 point shot en route to 19 points.

Ban Charges?

For me, the defining moment of the game came during a two minute stretch late in the first half, when Colorado was called for three charges in five possessions. The calls ranged from probably correct to very dubious, and the worst of the bunch was the 3rd charge, which led to Tad Boyle picking up a technical foul. That stretch was part of a game-swinging 15-1 Cal ran, and saw McKinley Wright head to the bench for the remainder of the half with two fouls. With Colorado’s best player on the bench, Cal entered halftime with a 12 point lead that they would not relinquish.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

But more than taking away possessions and gifting Cal points at the line, that stretch seemed to get into Colorado’s head the rest of the way. The Buffs increasingly settled for jumpers rather than driving for the hoop, and every single non-call the rest of the way saw the Buffs looking incredulously at the refs. Rather than climbing back into the game with a strong 2nd half effort, Colorado wilted, never got closer than 8 points, and Cal extended their lead all the way to 16 points before extended garbage time.

As a firm member of the #bancharges movement, I didn’t particularly enjoy the way the game was called. There were 8 called in total, 5 on the Buffs.

Odds and Ends

  • DJ Thorpe and Kuany Kuany started (and Kuany nailed an early corner 3) but only played a combined 10 minutes. I’m not clear what, if any, message Mark Fox was trying to send by giving each freshman their first career start, but they didn’t end up playing more than their usual shallow rotation minutes.
  • As the season has gone along the Bears have increasingly improved on their offensive turnovers. Beyond the obvious value of not wasting possessions, it’s important when you’re a slow paced team trying to control tempo and deny transition opportunities. Cal only had 8 on the night, 3 of which were aforementioned charges, and Colorado only had two steals and nary an opportunity to speed the game up until they played the stupid fouling game for the final 2+ minutes.
  • Lars Thiemann only played 4 minutes, and I’m not sure how much that reflects his lost time in the rotation generally vs. a matchup decision because Colorado’s only true post player is the undersized Evan Battey who could be reasonably guarded by either Andre Kelly or Grant Anticevich.

And so the Bears are, improbably, 6-9 and in 8th place in the Pac-12. Granted, that’s just 1.5 games up on 11th place Oregon State, but for a team that spent the last two years in last it feels quite heady.

This was not the game that Cal was supposed to win this weekend. Colorado has had dreams of winning the regular season title, while Utah has lost four of five and is 0-8 on the road in Pac-12 play. If the Bears win a game that they are now likely to be favored (even if narrowly) to win, they will all but wrap up at least a share of 8th place in the conference. Hell, if they could pull another upset and Stanford went into the tank, there’s a slight chance Cal could pass up the Lobsterbacks.

I feel kinda weird being jazzed about a 6-9 conference record, but it’s a damned sight better than [ALLREFERENCESTOTHEPREVIOUSERAOFCALBASKETBALLREDACTEDFORSAFETY]