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Cal Can't Keep Up With Cougars

January 15, 2022

Cal was hanging with Washington State for much of Saturday afternoon in Pullman. But the Cougars tightened their zone defense and buried some clutch buckets down the stretch to come away with a 65-57 victory.

The Bears (9-9, 2-5 Pac-12) have lost four straight, which is a terrible thing to do to a five-game winning streak. They also fell to 0-4 on road games. The Cougs (10-7. 3-3) had the advantage in several areas, all of which had an impact on the outcome.

For the second straight game Cal was pretty much kept off the free throw line. WSU shot 21 free throws, 18 in the second half. Cal was 7-for-10 for the game and had only four attempts in the second half.

The Cougs got 23 points from their reserves, including 16 from Andrej Jakimovski, the 6-11 forward whom the Bear defense ignored too often when he wandered past the three-point line. He hit four of seven from beyond the arc, including a crucial one late in the game.

The Cal reserves contributed just nine points. 

WSU outrebounded Cal, 39-32, and had 14 offensive rebounds to nine for the Bears. 

“I think it is the third road game in a row where we had the lead at the half,” said head coach Mark Fox, whose team was on top, 29-27 at intermission. “We are talking about trying to close it, trying to finish it. We just didn’t get defensive rebounds.”

The teams traded baskets pretty evenly in the first half. WSU led most of the way and had a seven-point lead with six minutes left in the period. A 7-0 spurt by the Bears tied it and just before the end of the half Kuany Kuany sank three free throws to turn a one-point deficit into a two-point lead.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
Fox lets the officials know what he thinks

The start of the second half was much the same. Oddly what looked like good news for the Bears turned into a game-changer the other way.

At the nine-minute mark both of WSU’s big men, Efe Abogidi and Mohammad Gueye had four fouls. Cougars head coach Kyle Smith switched from man-to-man to a zone. The move stopped the Cal offense in its tracks. Although its own offense was hardly a well-oiled machine it was doing enough and Washington State pulled away. 

It was the second game in a row Cal couldn’t deal with a zone defense.

“We didn’t handle the zone very well,” Fox said. “But I thought we had some interior looks that we didn’t take advantage of against the zone.”

It’s own defense was doing OK as far as challenging shots went. It was when the ball clanged off the rim that the Bears came up short.

“At the end of the day our defensive rebounding in the second half let us down,” Fox said. “We forced enough misses and we competed really hard. We just didn’t do enough to close the game.”

The Cougars take as many 3-pointers as any team in the country, and with the exception of Jakimovski they didn’t get many good looks from beyond the arc. The rest of the team was just 2-for-15.

“If you force a miss you’ve got to go rebound it,” Fox said. “You’ve got to finish possessions with the rebound. and we didn’t do that well enough today. We have been a good defender of the three-point line. The three-point differential today was minus one, so that’s not terrible. We held them to a percentage that is acceptable. But you’ve got to clean it up with a rebound and we didn’t do that today.”

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
WSU’s Efe Abogidi scores 

The WSU offensive rebound that hurt the most was by Jakimovski on Michael Flowers’ missed free throw with 2:52 left and  Seconds later Flowers hit his only trey of the game, so instead of trailing by two with the ball, Cal was down by five. The Bears never got any closer.

Cal did get a bit of an emotional spark with the appearance of Joel Brown. The junior guard had been on covid protocol until Sunday morning. He made his way from Berkeley to Pullman -- not the easiest of airline connections -- and arrived late in the first half.

Fox was aware that Brown had been idle for seven days, but the coach was hopeful nevertheless, He put him into the game early in the second half. The rust showed, and a minute later Brown was back on the bench. Fox admitted he might have been guilty of some wishful thinking. 

“It is just a roll of the dice,” Fox said. “It was a gamble. He hasn’t been with our team for seven days. He wasn’t in any meetings. He didn’t do any walkthroughs. He hasn’t shot a ball. He’s been locked in his apartment.

“And we just took a roll of the dice. It was ‘Can he just step in here and keep rolling?’ And you could tell he wasn’t ready and understandably so.”

Jordan Shepherd tried to keep the Bears in the game with his offense, he led them with 17 points and was 6-for-12 from the field including 3-for-6 from long range. Andre Kelly had 12 points and 14 rebounds. Grant Anticevich is still trying to regain his three=point shooting touch. He was 0-for-3 from beyond the arc. 

The Bears have eight days off before their next game against Arizona in Berkeley next Sunday.


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