Cal Men's Basketball Puts Forth a Valiant Effort in 79-72 Loss at USC
Isaiah Mobley and Boogie Ellis combine for 45 Trojan points.
Walking into Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon felt a little bit surreal. The last time I sat in a press area to cover the Bears was two years ago at Pauley Pavilion, and I hadn’t even attended a Cal men’s basketball game as a fan since then. Despite having to fill out a brief health questionnaire and wear a mask, it felt liberating watching the game (and even warmups) in person.
I’ll say this for the Bears: they didn’t permit me to start writing a conclusive game story at halftime. USC led by six after 20 minutes, and only because Boogie Ellis made a layup as time expired. Even though the Trojans won their January 6 matchup at Haas Pavilion easily by the score of 77-63, on Saturday the Bears ended up on the short end of a 79-72 decision.
I’ve become more of a glass half full person lately, but it’s still a bitter pill to swallow when a squad on a lengthy losing streak (now seven games) plays a top-25 team down to the wire on the road before falling short. Despite their loss to Stanford on Tuesday, USC has dropped only three games this season and Cal hung with them despite losing Andre Kelly in the second half. Kelly managed to throw down a dunk after sustaining a knee injury in a battle for the ball but soon left the floor and did not return. His final line: 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting while adding five rebounds and two assists.
After the game, Mark Fox praised his team’s effort and excellent shooting but lamented that the Trojans made hay at the free throw line and said that the Bears “just couldn’t close.” USC head coach Andy Enfield remarked that Cal “played an outstanding game.” Enfield also mentioned that his squad was tired due to playing a busy schedule of late, quipping that “I’m sure our fans are too after today’s game.” Cal pulled out to a 20-9 advantage on the strength of some hot shooting, ending the game at 50 percent both from the field and behind the arc. Unfortunately for the visitors, a subsequent 19-4 USC run ensued.
It’s no secret that Makale Foreman has been playing through a foot injury, but on the team bus he told Fox that he was feeling better. After what has been a disappointing statistical season, Foreman ended up leading the Bears with 13 points in this contest. He even sank a trey in spite of being fouled by Chevez Goodwin, but was unable to hit the ensuing free throw.
Fox deliberately constructed a taller starting lineup to match up with the Trojans. Despite fouling out in only 14 minutes, Joel Brown provided a spark off the bench with six points while missing only one attempt from the floor. Jordan Shepherd didn’t force the action too much, amassing 12 points thanks in part to a couple of trips to the charity stripe. Kuany Kuany buried an early 3-pointer on his way to seven points, four rebounds and an assist. Another bright spot was Jalen Celestine, who made all three of his attempts from deep and finished with 12 points of his own.
Fox addressed the recent struggles of Grant Anticevich, which have included getting held off the scoreboard against UCLA, but said that he finished Saturday’s game looking better. Anticevich shot 3-for-13 against USC but managed to recover somewhat after missing his first five attempts from the field and led the Bears with seven rebounds.
The Trojans helped themselves by committing only four turnovers and going 21-for-28 from the line. This wasn’t their best effort, but the athleticism of Isaiah Mobley allowed him to draw fouls almost without even trying. He posted a game high 24 points with six boards, two assists and two blocks. Ellis had 21 points, which was his best output of the campaign, thanks in part to 8-of-10 shooting from the floor. Only Goodwin joined them in double figures with 10 points, while Drew Peterson made some late foul shots to finish with seven. Ethan Anderson paced the home team with five assists and Max Agbonkpolo contributed six points in his 14 minutes of action. The Trojans also forced several shot clock violations that ended up being fairly important in the scheme of things.
Next up for the 9-12 Bears is a trip to the Farm on Tuesday to face an ostensibly less talented team than the Trojans. Nevertheless, Stanford is 12-7 and has lost only once at Maples Pavilion thus far. The Bears had to wait until Sunday to return home and Fox admitted that there won’t be much in the way of full practices during the week ahead thanks to the packed schedule. Fox certainly hopes to have Kelly back in the fold soon, but no news was available immediately after the game. Cal proved that it can play an entertaining 40 minutes against superior talent, but how soon will that lead to more than a moral victory?