Cal MBB holds on for first win over San Diego

Balanced scoring and great 3 point shooting carries the Bears past the Toreros

After two very frustrating losses to start the season, the Bears are in the win column, and so in the spirit of positivity, I’m going to choose to focus largely on the good things the Bears did to beat San Diego, rather than the concerning things that kept this game closer than it should have been.

Which means that we must first begin with shooting. San Diego plays under a coach who runs a defense that allows lots of three point looks, and while Cal didn’t shoot a ton from behind the arc, when they did they were open and they took advantage.

Is it concerning that the Bears shot 10-15 from three and still hadn’t completely put the game away until the final minute? Yes, but we’re focusing on the positive here.

The other thing that Cal did better on offense was finding balanced shooting and scoring. Four Bears finished in double figures, and after two games with Jordan Shepherd dominating the ball and taking ~1/3 of Cal’s shots, the burden was much more evenly shared across the lineup. Grant Anticevich had his shot going, Andre Kelly was his usual solid self, and Cal got chip-in contributions from Kuany Kuany, Makale Foreman, and Joel Brown.

In short, the ball moved faster and more players were involved, and while playing San Diego has something to do with that, you’ve got to start somewhere.

Meanwhile, the positive development on defense had to do with activity and disruption. Cal will never force a ton of turnovers under Mark Fox - that’s just not what his defense is designed to do. But the Bears were more active than usual, clogging passing lanes and knocking balls loose, and the result was 11 turnovers that were largely forced and more possessions disrupted than usual, which helped Cal hold on as the Toreros shot quite well from deep themselves.

Add it all up and it was enough to win with relative comfort. An early barrage of 3s in the first half turned an early deficit into an early lead, and after San Diego slowly climbed back into the game, Cal used another barrage of deep shots to build a 10 point lead midway through the 2nd half that they largely maintained until a very late San Diego flurry added some cosmetic points to the scoreboard.

OK, those are the positives. But if Cal was active defensively, shot the ball well, and shared the scoring burden, why was this even close?

Well, in part because Cal struggled to control the paint. That sounds concerning when you’re facing a team predicted to finish 9th in the WCC at home, though it’s worth noting that San Diego has a 6’10’’ grad transfer from Pitt, Terrell Brown, who has been a high end shot blocker for his entire career. San Diego was able to pull down 11 offensive boards to Cal’s 4, and while San Diego struggled to score inside, so did Cal. Ultimately Cal shot the ball better from deep just that little bit better, and that was enough.

Notes

  • Freshman Sam Alajiki played 13 minutes, and while there wasn’t much of an indication that he’s going to make any kind of offensive impact, he was defensively active and purposeful

  • Grant Anticevich got called for a pretty questionable looking foul when it looked like he cleanly blocked a 2 point jumper, then was called for a technical foul, presumably for arguing over the call? It was weird because there was nothing unusual about his body language suggesting Grant was irate. Either way, if the refs get that call right the first time Cal might have a chance in transition, but instead San Diego gets 3 points at the line right before halftime that kept the game closer than it should have been.

  • 10 combined assists from Joel Brown and Jordan Shepherd is exactly what this team needs game-in, game-out, but I fear that this is a factor more of the team Cal was playing rather than some sort of shift in how the offense will function. Hope I’m wrong!

  • Cal is still using a pretty deep rotation (nine guys played 8 minutes or more) despite three guys still out injured. But Shepherd, Brown, Kelly, and Anticevich played 30+, so there’s already plenty of info on who the core guys are likely to be.

  • Nice low-key game from Kuany Kuany, who hit 2-3 from deep. I’m 100% OK with him focusing on defense, rebounding, and nailing corner 3s on offense a couple times a game.

Next up for the Bears is a Thursday night visit from the reigning Big Sky regular season champ Southern Utah Thunderbirds, who return basically everybody from last year’s squad. They’ve started the year 0-2 with an understandable loss on the road to St. Mary’s and a less understandable loss on the road to Dixie State, but they’re a veteran group who should pose a tougher challenge than San Diego.

It’s also Cal’s last game before a very intimidating trip to Florida for the Fort Meyers tip-off, so a win would be advisable. More than anything else, I’m just glad that the Bears have that first W under their belt because the schedule is getting tougher soon.