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Cal Basketball

Cal Hoops Falls Short At Arizona State

January 28, 2021

It’s a trend Cal fans probably don’t want to get used to. For the third straight game, Cal’s men's basketball team had a chance to win late but ultimately ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard. This time, it was at the hands of the Arizona State Sun Devils, which beat the Golden Bears for the second time this year, this time, 72-68.

With 4:19 to play, Grant Anticevich knocked down two free-throws to bring the Bears within four points at 65-61. But over the next few minutes, Arizona State (5-8, 2-5 Pac-12) went on a 6-1 run, driving its lead to 69-62. Cal (7-11, 2-9 Pac-12) wouldn’t get closer than four, only on a last-second shot from Matt Bradley after the game had basically already been decided.

Cal Head Coach Mark Fox called it the theory of the little things.

“I thought tonight, we tested the theory of little things,” Fox said to reporters after the game. “And when you understand the consequence of little things, you realize there’s no such thing as a little thing. Because the little mistakes tonight were extremely costly. In a game that ended up being a two-possession game, a turnover that led to a layup, or not forcing someone to a ball screen that led to a layup, or a missed free-throw, or not making our own layups. The little things add up and are extremely costly.”

The Bears finished with 15 turnovers, leading to 20 Arizona State points. The Sun Devils committed 10 turnovers. Cal also missed more finishes at the rim than it made, going 9-of-20 for layups and 2-of-4 for dunks. Arizona State, meanwhile, went 15-of-17 for layups and 3-of-3 for dunks. Cal did go 13-of-18 from the free-throw line, although the Sun Devils went 13-of-20. Both teams missed some key free-throws down the stretch. 

While it was ultimately a frustrating night for the Bears, Bradley looks closer to being back to his normal self. After missing a handful of games from a severe ankle sprain, Bradley played 24 minutes, scoring 11 points last weekend against USC.

“Matt’s not the Matt Bradley that everyone saw a year ago,” Fox said. “He’s had injuries to both legs. He just doesn’t have the same legs he did a year ago. Eventually, he will, but right now he just doesn’t. And I thought he played super hard.”

Fox added that Bradley still needs to regain some strength in his legs and get some conditioning back. Those factors are what likely helped add to Bradley uncharacteristically missing some shots at the rim and free-throws he normally converts. “But his spirit to compete, I love it,” Fox said of Bradley, noting he still looks a bit out of rhythm, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Bradley did lead all scorers, out-dueling Arizona State’s Remy Martin, and earned a double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes of action. It wasn’t the most efficient, as Bradley went 8-of-20 from the field, including 3-of-8 from three-point distance. But Bradley got to the free-throw line at will, going 7-of-11. Bradley almost single-handedly kept the Bears in the game in the second half, scoring 19 of the Bears 38 points. Fellow junior Kelly added eight after halftime, but no other Bear had more than three points after the break. Kelly also had a big night for the Bears, earning a double-double with 16 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. 

As Bear fans have also become accustomed to, ASU’s Martin led the team in scoring with 19 points. Martin’s late free-throws helped close the game for the Sun Devils.

Cal dug itself into a hole early as the Sun Devils scored the game’s first five points and led 15-5 when Fox called a timeout with 11:27 to play. After the break, Arizona State extended its lead to 12 off a Marcus Bagley dunk. Arizona State extended the lead to 12 again after a Jalen Graham dunk with 6:46 to go in the first half.

But then Cal went on a 17-4 run over the rest of the half, taking a 30-29 lead into the locker room. Kelly had all eight of his points on that run. In a reverse from the last two games against the Los Angeles schools, the Bears were up big on the glass, grabbing 12 offensive rebounds to Arizona State’s one in the first half.

Out of the locker room, the Bears’ lead quickly eroded as former five-star recruit Josh Christopher knocked down back-to-back threes, pushing Arizona State’s lead back to 35-30. Bradley countered with a rare four-point play, making a three and a free-throw after drawing a foul from Christopher.

Each time it seemed like Arizona State might run away with the game, Cal had an answer. The Sun Devils led 45-38 with 15:23 to play after another Christopher three. But the Bears responded with a 10-2 run to retake the lead 48-47 with just over 12 minutes to play. Cal spent the next four minutes either in the lead or tied, until the Sun Devils regained the lead, 58-56 with just over eight minutes to play. While they’d keep it within arm’s reach, the Bears were never able to regain the lead over the final eight minutes.

Overall, it was a mixed bag for the Bears. On one hand, Cal ended up outrebounding the Sun Devils, 43-29, including 15-5 on the offensive glass. The Bears also had 14 assists on 24 field goals. But, on the other hand, the Bears had 15 turnovers and shot just 39% (24-of-61) from the field, including 29% (7-of-24) from long-range. Bradley was the only Bear to make more than one three-point shot.

The Bears are off tomorrow and travel further south from Tempe to Tuscon to play the Arizona Wildcats. Arizona (12-4, 6-4 Pac-12) lost to Stanford tonight, 73-64. 

Other stories:

Anticevich Discovering His Shooting Touch

Cal Hoops: Bears (Almost) Back to Full Strength

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Cal Hoops Falls Short At Arizona State

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