Cal rallies late in 73-53 win over Pacific
The Bears improve to 8-5 on the season.
Entering Wednesday afternoon’s game against Pacific, Mark Fox knew that his squad had but one opportunity to set the tone for the next week and a half. The Bears are not slated to play again until they face Stanford on January 2. Cal men’s hoops needed to take care of business against a 5-8 Tigers team that ranked 240th in Division I according to Ken Pomeroy. Despite getting off to a strong start, California trailed at the half and needed a late offensive barrage to overpower the visitors during a 73-53 victory at Haas Pavilion.
Cal held a 13-5 edge just over 6 minutes into the contest thanks in part to five early points from Jalen Celestine, who got the start with Kuany Kuany out of action. He ended with a tidy 12 points and seven boards. Joel Brown gave the Bears a 20-16 advantage with a beautiful reverse lay-in, but the Tigers evened the score at 23 on a basket by Sam Freeman. Brown racked up seven points, seven rebounds, eight assists and two steals for the game. Jordan Shepherd scored 11 total points but missed a few open looks, shooting 4-for-12 from the floor overall. The Bears ended up falling behind by five and got lucky that Jeremiah Bailey missed a 3-pointer just before halftime. Even so, of all the Tigers only Jaden Byers was able to reach double digit points.
As the second half began, the Bears caught a break out of the gate when Pierre Crockrell II released a 3-pointer just a bit too late for it to count. Later, a pair of Freeman layups tied the game at 41 with 13:54 left in the second half. Andre Kelly really struggled with his shot, going 5-for-15 from the field. Nevertheless, he finished with 11 points (and added two blocks) thanks to a well-timed pair of buckets that gave Cal a little breathing room. The home team held a 57-51 lead with 6:37 remaining.
One of the other reasons that the Bears finally pulled away was a shift in defensive tactics. Fox decided to employ a zone defense that had been left on the shelf since last season. He asked the returning players whether they remembered how to run it, and Pacific ended up without a made field goal in more than seven minutes to close out the game. The result was a 21-2 run by the Bears that put an exclamation point on a game that had been extremely close for more than 30 minutes.
Grant Anticevich was a key component of the offense all game long, setting career highs with 25 points and seven triples. It was also his fourth double-double of the season as he added 11 rebounds in a terrific overall effort. Without Matt Bradley on the roster, the Australian has already delivered in many key situations during his final season in blue and gold. The Bears shot 46 percent from downtown compared to just 25 percent for Pacific. Cal hit 48 percent from the field, while the Tigers sat at 39 percent. Cal also committed a respectable nine turnovers compared to 13 for Pacific.
Anticevich summarized the game as follows: “Pacific played with a lot of purpose in the first half. My teammates did a great job of getting me open shots. They made the game easy for me.” As for the key to gathering wins in conference play: “For us, consistency is the main thing. As long as our defense is there, it gives us a chance to win.”
Makale Foreman, who re-injured his foot on Sunday against Dartmouth, managed to score two points in 11 minutes of action. Jarred Hyder played a quiet 14 minutes while Sam Ajaliki sank a 3-pointer in six minutes. Lars Thiemann played only five minutes. Obinna Anyanwu checked in for three minutes in the first half and Marsalis Roberson entered during garbage time.
The Cal Athletic Department advertised that Fox was providing 1,000 free tickets to the game, so a good number of fans were able to apply that money toward a BART ride or concessions. Thankfully, the Golden Bear offense took over in the nick of time to make sure that Pacific didn’t break its streak of 20 straight losses to Pac-12 opponents. Nevertheless, sluggish starts will be much more difficult to overcome against the likes of Arizona and UCLA. Even a solid defense is unlikely to be enough in those matchups if the offense sputters at the outset.