Bears deliver comprehensive 74-50 win over Arizona State
Cal men's hoops improves to 2-1 in conference play.
These days, I often seem to begin these articles with a caveat. In this case, I could tell you that Cal’s next game will be against a top-25 team in the USC Trojans instead of a 5-8 Arizona State squad that was missing defensive force Alonzo Gaffney due to illness. Nevertheless, Sunday’s 74-50 victory felt like a building block toward respectability for the Bears, who are now 9-5 and have won nine straight at Haas Pavilion. Cal was initially slated to face arch rival Stanford, but that game was postponed due to opponent COVID protocols, opening the door for a dominant defensive performance by the Bears.
Given their issues this year, it’s easy to forget that the Sun Devils entered 2022 having won seven straight against Cal. Nevertheless, ASU did rack up an overtime victory against Oregon on December 5. After a 3-17 conference record last season, the Bears are already 2-1 this season versus the Pac-12 and 9-5 overall. I attempted to isolate a few of the reasons that California was so successful.
Grant Anticevich and Andre Kelly are just 6’9” but their inside-out games came in handy with ASU missing its best shot blocker in Gaffney. Joel Brown opened the scoring with a layup on his way to seven points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Then, Anticevich fed Kelly underneath for an easy hoop. The next two baskets for Cal were a 3-pointer by Grant and a slam by Kelly, both assisted by Jordan Shepherd. That helped set the tone for the Bears to jump out to a 41-23 halftime lead. Anticevich added another double-double to his resume with 10 points and 10 rebounds, while Kelly piled up 13 points to go with five rebounds, two assists and a block.
A hallmark of Mark Fox teams has been defensive success, but during his tenure in Berkeley the overall results have been mixed. That wasn’t the case on Sunday, when Cal held Arizona State to 33 percent shooting from the field in the first half followed by 32 percent in the final 20 minutes of play. The Sun Devils converted just three of their 17 attempts from long range including an 0-for-7 stretch in the first half. Fox called it “as complete a game as we’ve played since I got here.” The 10 forced turnovers don’t jump off the page, but holding Marreon Jackson to just one made field goal in 10 attempts and Jay Heath to a 3-for-14 shooting line certainly does.
As I sat in the Pauley Pavilion press box in early 2020 during a loss to UCLA, I noticed just how much the team seemed to stand around and waited for Matt Bradley to create his own shot. When his shot didn’t fall, the offense stalled badly. On Sunday, the Bears got 25 points from their reserves including nine for Jalen Celestine and seven by Lars Thiemann. That might not seem incredibly impressive, but consistent bench play takes a lot of pressure off the primary scorers.
The Good Shepherd
Shepherd actually led Cal with 16 points, making nine of the Bears’ 11 successful free throw attempts. His drawing five fouls, dishing out four assists, and registering a steal proved highly significant in putting the Sun Devils away relatively early in the contest. Shepherd ended 3-for-8 from the field and he hit a 3-pointer in the process. Despite a few early missed foul shots Cal was highly efficient overall, shooting 48 percent from long range and 51 percent overall while turning the ball over nine times. Even Kuany Kuany got in on the long distance shooting, scoring three points with two rebounds and an assist.
The Other Guys
Fox ended up deploying 11 players compared to nine for Bobby Hurley’s Sun Devils. Makale Foreman has seen a drop in usage this season, probably due to nagging injuries. He hit one of his two attempts from behind the arc and grabbed a rebound but played just seven minutes. Sam Alajiki had three points and two boards in nine minutes, while Jarred Hyder added a trey. Obinna Anyanwu had just a brief appearance of two minutes.
An aside: I was so sorry to hear about the Boulder County fires adjacent to the University of Colorado. Two years ago, I hiked around Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Boulder with my siblings and it was such a beautiful place. We made a lot of memories in the Denver area including a trip to Coors Field, a stop at the National Ballpark Museum and a stroll around the Denver Botanic Gardens. As soon as I saw the news, I wanted to wish everyone affected by this tragedy the very best.