The Mark Fox era began Wednesday night with a 98-75 victory over St. Martin's, a Division II program from Lacey, Washington.
Fox was generally pleased with the game, saying, "We did a lot of good things, and there were a lot of teachable moments we can look back on."
The Bears showed off a range of scoring options and played unselfishly, but weren't terrific defensively, especially in the first half when they led just 44-41.
Yes, every opponent the Bears face the rest of the year will be bigger and better, but this was a decent start. Cal appeared organized on offense and generally played with purpose.
Newcomer Kareem South, a grad transfer from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, scored 23 points on his birthday to lead the Bears. He also had four rebounds and four assists.
Sophomore Matt Bradley overcame foul trouble to score 18 points, including four of Cal's 11 3-point baskets. Grant Anticevich scored 13 points, Paris Austin had 8 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds, and freshman 7-footer Lars Thiemann contributed 9 points, 5 rebounds and 4 blocks. Freshman Joel Brown had 6 assists in less than 14 minutes.
Fox was particularly pleased with the Bears' total of 26 assists - the Bears were last in the Pac-12 last season, averaging just 10.9 per game.
"The thing I like about our team, we tend to practice very unselfishsly," Fox said. "I don’t think we have anybody who’s a ball-stopper. They enjoy trying to make each other better."
Cal had just six turnovers, and shot 54 percent, including 61 percent in the second half.
Defense was another matter. "Our defense isn't anywhere near . . . in the same galaxy as where it needs to be to beat good teams," he said.
The visiting Saints shot 53 percent in the first half but were held to 35 percent over the final 20 minutes. The were particularly effective shooting from the perimeter, converting 11 3-point baskets.
Fox said the Bears made a defensive adjustment on the fly - something they haven't even had time to practice yet - to slow the Saints' offensive flow.
Freshman guard Alex Schumacher scored 21 points to lead St. Martin's, 17 of them in the first half.
Forward Kuany Kuany was the only freshman who did not play. He's wearing a brace on his leg and Fox said he should be back soon.
But sophomore forward Blake Welle will be red-shirted, presumably due to injury.
Cal announced the crowd at 1,278.
The Bears open their regular season at home next Tuesday against Pepperdine.
PRE-GAME: This is the approach I take when I go to see a movie: Never expect too much, buy the hype and maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised.
That seems like a reasonable approach to take with this Cal basketball team.
On the heels of 8-23 and 8-24 seasons, certainly there is no hype or outsized expectations for the Golden Bears.
They were picked last in the Pac-12 Conference and until they demonstrate the deserve more respect than that they will have to live with those muted expectations.
I do expect the Bears to be better than a year ago, when coach Wyking Jones could not coax much organization or even consistent effort out of the Bears.
But how much better will they look in tonight's exhibition debut against St. Martin's College, a Division II program from Lacey, Washington?
Well, I'm taking a wait-and-see approach.
This game won't tell us everything. The Bears' regular-season opener next Tuesday against Pepperdine - projected as an upper-division team in the West Coast Conference - will be a far better gauge of how far the program has come so far under first-year coach Mark Fox.
Stay tuned and I will update this report with my impressions as the action unfolds.
Hopefully, we'll all like the movie.
STARTING LINEUP: The Bears will open with PG Paris Austin, SG Kareem South, SG Matt Bradley, F Grant Anticevich, C Lars Thiemann.
14:01 1st Half: Cal 19, St. Martin's 7. The Saints led 7-4 before Cal began what is an ongoing 15-0 scoring run. The last nine points have come on a pair of 3-point baskets by Matt Bradley sandwiched around one by newcomer Kareem South,
11:42 1st Half: Cal 22, St. Martin's 12. They've played more than 8 minutes and Cal has no turnovers. It's a small sample size, but still.
11:40 1st Half: Turnover #1. Oh well.
7:05 1st Half: Cal leads 34-22, and Mark Fox is utilizing a tight player rotation. Just eight players so far. The starters, plus Andre Kelly, Jacobi Gordon and freshman Dimitrios Klonaras.
HALFTIME: Cal 44, St. Martin's 41. Well, I think we can assume the Bears will continue work on defense in practice. The Division II Saints shot 53 percent in the first half, were 7-for-14 on threes and exploited Cal with an invisible guard named Alex Schumacher. Well, invisible to the Cal defense, which could not find him anywhere over the final 4:30 of the half, when he scored 15 consecutive points for the Saints, including three 3-pointers, a pair of drives to the hoop and a mid-range jumper.
There were some good things for the Bears who are, after all, in front. Newcomer Kareem South, a grad transfer from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, scored 11 points and had a pair of steals he turned into fastbreak layups. Matt Bradley also had 11 points. The Pac-12's most accurate 3-point shooter a year ago, Bradley was 3-for-4 behind the new international 3-point arc.
14:59 2nd Half: Cal 57, St. Martin's 45. The Bears have cranked up their transition game to push their lead to 12 points. Freshman center Lars Thiemann, the 7-footer from Germany, had a couple decisive putbacks to open the half. Freshman guard Joel Brown is seeing this first action and has a basket and an assist.
7:48 2nd Half: Cal 79, St. Martin's 61. The Bears are shooting 62 percent this half, including 5 for 8 from the 3-point arc, and have taken charge. The lead was 79-58 a few moments ago after a 3-pointer by Grant Anticevich. Freshman Joel Brown had a brief but effective stint with five quick assists. He sat and now is back. Lars Thiemann has 9 points, 4 rebounds and 4 blocks.