There is never just one reason a team wins or loses a game.
But a gruesome effort at the free throw line carried a lot of weight in what was otherwise generally a solid effort by Cal in a 71-65 defeat to No. 24 Colorado on Thursday night in Boulder, Colo.
Cal (10-12, 4-5 Pac-12) worked hard on defense, shot 56 percent from the field and stayed with the Buffaloes (18-5, 7-3) much of the game. The Bears trailed by just 2 points with 5 minutes left, and only 4 points after a steal and layup by Paris Austin with 2:21 left.
But they made it tougher than it should have been by missing 9 of their first 13 free throws. Cal finished 8-for-17.
“We broke a little bit. Good teams can do that to you. Our mistakes cost us," Cal coach Mark Fox said. "They can beat you so many different ways it takes a darn-near perfect effort to beat them, especially in this building.”
And the Bears weren't near perfect, especially at the foul line.
Austin finally converted a pair of freebies with 1:01 left before Matt Bradley dropped in a jumper that got the Bears within 63-58 with 50 seconds to go.
Cal got no closer as the Buffaloes closed the game by converting 8-for-10 from the foul line in the final 48 seconds.
Fox was generally encouraged by his team's performance against an opponent that began the day ranked No. 18 in the NCAAs NET computer ratings.
"I think our team was really prepared to play. I thought we calmed down enough to execute. We tried to help each other tonight," Fox said. "As we put this young team together, on the road we probably haven't helped each other as much. Tonight we really wanted to focus on helping each other and playing better offensively, and in the first half I think we did that.
“But CU has such a complete team.”
Cal had averaged just 52.8 points on the road, but scored 65 in this one.
Bradley, who battled first-half foul problems, led the Bears with 17 points. Austin had another strong performance with 15 points, and Andre Kelly shot 6-for-7 to score 12 points to go with 7 rebounds.
Austin said the Bears executed their game plan well in the first half. “We wanted to come out, play hard, play smart, play to our game, play to our tempo and take the shots we usually make in practice,” he said.
But all-Pac-12 forward Tyler Bey was a tough matchup for Cal, contributing 21 points and nine rebounds. Point guard McKinley Wright had 17 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists, and D'Shawn Schwartz scored 14.
Cal remains winless in nine tries outside Berkeley, now 0-6 on the road to go with three neutral-site losses. The Bears have not won a Pac-12 road game outside California since beating Arizona State nearly three years ago.
"We just needed to make a couple more plays and we didn't do it. It’s progress for our team, but we came here to get the win and we didn't do that," Fox said. “This group is trying to build from the ground up. Every loss is awful, every win is amazing. We didn’t win today.”
Austin said the Bears won't dwell on this one, but will turn the page to Saturday and another road test vs. Utah.
“It was a tough loss because we felt like we should have won," Austin said. "We’re just going to flush it and move to the next game.”
PRE-GAME: Do you remember Grant Mullins?
Don’t feel badly if you don’t.
Mullins was a one-year Cal player, a graduate transfer from Columbia on Cuonzo Martin’s 2016-17 team.
I reference him here because Mullins was the Bears’ hero in their most recent Pac-12 road win that did not take place at Stanford.
It’s been nearly three full years since the Bears won a conference road game besides the ones they took from Stanford the past two seasons.
The Bears (10-11, 4-4 Pac-12) are 0-3 on the road in conference play so far this season. It doesn't get any easier because their schedule is backloaded with games away from Haas Pavilion, beginning this evening against No. 24 Colorado (17-5, 6-3) in beautiful (but chilly) Boulder.
You have to trek back to Feb. 8, 2017 for Cal’s most recent out-of-state conference road win. It was a 68-43 rout of Arizona State, fueled by 18 points from Mullins, a Canadian-born guard. Ivan Rabb had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
The Bears are 2-23 in Pac-12 road games since that day, both of the victories coming after just a 49-mile drive across the bay to Stanford.
The Bears have dropped their past three games at Colorado since beating the Buffaloes 68-61 on Feb. 12, 2015. Jordan Mathews scored 22 points for Cal in that one.
Colorado is 10-2 at home this season, with losses to Northern Iowa and Oregon State. The Buffs own home wins over Oregon, Utah and the two Washington schools.
CU junior forward Tyler Bey, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection last season, was named Thursday as one of 10 finalists for the Karl Malone Power Forward of the year Award. Bey averages 13.3 points and 8.9 rebounds.
Check back for in-game updates on Cal at Colorado. Tipoff is 5 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network.
Cal starting lineup: G Paris Austin; G Kareem South; G Matt Bradley; F Grant Anticevich; C Lars Thiemann.
Colorado starting lineup: G Shane Gatling; G D'Shawn Schwartz; G McKinley Wright; F Tyler Bey; F Evan Battey.
15:48 1st H: Kareem South has a pair of early baskets and Matt Bradley hit a 3-pointer on his first attempt of the night. But Colorado has answered with back-to-back 3's by D'Shawn Schwartz and Shane Gatling and the Buffaloes have the lead. Colorado 10, Cal 9.
11:18 1st H: Cal is on a 9-1 run, thanks to their defense helping CU miss seven straight shots. The Bears made their first six field-goal tries, including a 3-pointer by South that pushed their lead to four points. They've missed their past two attempts. But CU is 4-for-12, including 2-for-8 on 3's. South has 7 points to lead all scorers. Cal 15, Colorado 11.
7:30 1st H: Cal continues to shoot the ball well -- 8-for-12 from the field -- and a 3-pointer by Anticevich helps the Bears maintain the lead. CU is struggling at 6-for-18 (33%) but has just one turnover. Cal has given the ball away four times. Cal 20 Colorado 17.
2:53 1st H: A pair of driving baskets by Austin have put the Bears back in front after Colorado used a 7-0 run to lead 22-20. But there is bad news for Cal: Bradley picked up his second personal foul with 5:21 left and Mark Fox trusted him to not get another. Left him in the game. With 4:37 left, Bradley was whistled for No. 3 on a drive when he put his shoulder into the defender. Cal 26, Colorado 22.
HALFTIME: Cal 28, Colorado 28. Cal shot 63 percent in the half and held CU to 39 percent, but 8 turnovers leveled the playing field and the Bears could not hold onto the lead into halftime. Anticevich had four of those giveaways including an errant pass on Cal's final possession which had Mark Fox visibly upset. CU responded with McKinley Wright driving into the lane and dishing to Tyler Bey, who converted the game-tying layup with just under 3 seconds left. Cal controlled the tempo and shot well (except at the FT line: 0-for-3) but the turnovers were costly. Bradley and South each scored 7 points for Cal, but Bradley spent a total of 7 minutes on the bench. Bey had 8 points and 4 rebounds for Colorado.
14:42 2nd H: The Buffaloes, who settled for perimeter shots in the first half against Cal's zone defense (and were 2-for-14 on 3's), changed tactics to open the second half. They went inside to Bey, who scored on a pair of short jumpers, then drew a foul and converted two free throws. An alley-oop dunk by Schwartz made it an 8-0 run that gave the Buffs a five-point lead - biggest for either team all night. Andre Kelly has answered with a pair of baskets for the Bears. Colorado 39, Cal 35.
11:01 2nd H: After shooting so well in the first half, the Bears have cooled. They are 4-for-11 from the field so far. Bradley, operating with three fouls, is 0-for-3 and scoreless in the half. Cal is lucky that CU has failed to score on its past four possessions, but Bey is going to the FT line after the timeout. Speaking of free throws, the Bears are 2-for-7 from the line - horrible! Kelly has 10 points to lead the Bears. Colorado 41, Cal 38.
7:42 2nd H: A 3-pointer by Anticevich and a tough drive through traffic by Bradley (first first FG of the second half) and Cal is back on top. Colorado is shooting 4-for-18 on 3's and Cal is 5-for-9. Bradley has managed not to pick up personal foul No. 4. Kelly has 12 points, Bradley has 10 for the Bears. Bey leads the Buffs with 15 points. Cal 46, Colorado 45.
2:47 2nd H: Colorado stretched its lead to 52-47 on a 3-pointer by Bey, who has 20 points. But Austin answered with a 3-pointer of his own -- just his third season on 12 attempts, Gatling hit a 3-pointer for Colorado, Bradley scored on a drive, then McKinley buried a wide-open 3 and the Buffs are up by six. The headline on this one will be Cal's pathetic effort at the free throw line: 4-for-13. That's nine points the Bears have given away against a Top-25 team on the road. Colorado 58, Cal 52.