Cal Basketball: Golden Bears Waste Big Early Lead, Hold on to Beat Aggies, 72-66

Jeff Faraudo

Well, Cal improved to 33-0 all-time vs. UC Davis.

But it wasn't easy. Or always pretty. 

The Bears (5-2) squandered all of an 18-point lead they had with barely 3 minutes left in the first half, but survived, beating the Aggies 72-66 on Tuesday night at Haas Pavilion.

Davis came all he way back to lead 54-52 with just over 7 minutes left. Cal answered with an 8-0 run and never trailed again. Still, the Aggies (2-6) would not go away. Down 66-57 with less than a minute left, they got within 69-66 when Elijah Pepper made  3-pointer with 13.5 seconds left.

Cal finally salted away the win by making 6 of 9 free throws in the final 35 seconds.

Coach Mark Fox had mixed feelings afterward, as you will hear in the video.

"I was pleased with how we started the game, really on both ends. It wasn't a perfect half but it started very well," he said. "We got a little immature once we got the double-figure lead and did not finish the half well.

"In the second half we played with the most dangerous thing you can play against - good 3-point shooters. Give Davis credit for making eight 3's in the second half and storming back."

Fox said the Bears' defense on the perimeter was not good enough.

But he also thought a game that became close at the finish probably had more benefit to his team than an easy victory would have.

"In hindsight, I'm really glad that the game got to that point because it was important for us to play in a close game."

Bradley finished with 19 points, Kareem South had 14 points, Grant Anticevich had 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Paris Austin contributed 12.

Here are Austin and Anticevich talking about the Bears' ability to win despite giving up the big lead.

Ezra Manjon scored 21 points and Stefan Gonzalez had 16 points to lead Davis, which made 8 of 16 shots from the 3-point arc in the second half. 

Cal made things tougher for itself with 15 turnovers. The Aggies had just four.

PRE-GAME: Facing No. 1 Duke at Madison Square Garden netted a predictable result.

Taking on UC Davis at Haas Pavilion should do the same.

A week after losing by 35 points to the Blue Devils — royalty of the sport — the Bears will be expected to flex their Pac-12 muscle tonight against a visitor from the Big West Conference.

Cal (4-2) will try to halt its two-game skid - having also lost to Texas in NYC — against the Aggies (2-5), who have never beaten their cousins from Berkeley.

The Bears are 32-0 all-time against Davis.

We won’t find out tonight if Cal has grown from its experience against Duke and Texas and might be better prepared to take on elite-level competition going forward.

But we’ll hopefully see an offense that moves the ball more efficiently and creates inside and outside scoring opportunities. And a defense that rebounds the ball more effectively, limiting the Aggies’ second-chance opportunities.

CAL'S STARTING LINEUP: Coach Mark Fox will go with his usual starting five - guards Joel Brown, Kareem South and Matt Bradley, forward Grant Anticevich and center Lars Thiemann.

15:04 1st H: The Bears made their first 5 shots and 6 of their first 7, led by Kareem South, who is 3-for-3 from the field, including a 3-pointer, and already has seven points. Matt Bradley also with a 3-pointer. Cal 14, UC Davis 7.

7:49 1st H: Cal taking charge. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Bradley and Anticevich push the Bears into a 13-point lead. Cal is shooting 78.6 percent (11-for-14), including 4-for-4 from the 3-point arc. Davis is shooting 29 percent (5-for-17). Cal 27, Davis 14.

3:11 1st H: Bradley has not missed - he's 4-for-4 from the field, three of those from the 3-point arc. He has a game-high 11 points. But he's also on the bench with two fouls - both of them charges. South also has 11 points and the Bears continue to shoot extremely well -- 73.7 percentile (14-for-19). They have made all five of their 3's. But they do have eight turnovers, and Mark Fox won't be thrilled with that. Davis is converting just 25 percent (6-for-24) and has made only 1 of its 8 attempts from the arc. Cal 34, Davis 16.

HALFTIME: Cal 36, UC Davis 25. The Bears led by 16 with 90 seconds left in the half before Ezra Manjon made a jumper and a 3-pointer to cut the margin to 11 points. South and Bradley scored 11 points apiece to lead the Bears, who shot 65 percent in the period (15-23), cooling off from nearly 80 percent earlier in the half. Cal had a 19-10 rebounding margin. The Bears committed 9 turnovers, but Davis scored just one point off those giveaways. Manjon scored 11 points for the Aggies, who shot 31 percent (9-for-29).  

14:50 2nd H: Davis has twice gotten within eight points early in the half and turnovers continue to be an issue. Cal now has 12. The Bears also aren't defending as well -- particularly on the primer -- as they did to start the game. But Anticevich has five points in the half, including a 3-pointer, and Cal is up by double-digits. Cal 45, UC Davis 35. 

11:37 2nd H: UC Davis only has 41 points, but some of that is pace of play, and Cal is not having a good half defensively.  That 18-point lead in the first half now a memory. Cal 48, UC Davis 41.

9:49 2nd H: Oliver Gehrke just hit a wide-open 3-pointer for the Aggies, who now have their small contingent of fans chanting during a timeout. Davis is on a 10-0 run, fueled by lax defense and some poor decision making on offense. Cal 48, Davis 46.

7:21 2nd H: The Aggies are 6-for-9 shooting in the second half . . . from the 3-point arc. Stefan Gonzalez, a transfer from Saint Mary's, made one to give Davis a 49-48 lead. Andre Kelly scored in the post on consecutive possessions to give the Bears a 52-49 lead, but Gonzalez just hit another 3-pointer. Cal 52, Davis 52.

3:29 2nd H: Cal on an 8-0 run, just punctuated by a driving layup and free throw by Bradley, who had 17 points. Anticevich started the surge with a mid-range jumper, Paris Austin made a free throw, then a jumper and the Bears are back in front. A lot of time left to play. Cal 60, Davis 54.

1:36 2nd H: It wasn't a good shot . . . until it went in. With no one else moving, Austin fired up a 3-pointer and it goes in. Cal 63, Davis 57.