Cal Basketball: Vernon Carey Dominates, Duke Overpowers Bears, 87-52

Jeff Faraudo

You're not surprised, I hope. This is what was going to happen when Cal faced No. 1 Duke at Madison Square Garden.

The Bears hung around for about 8 minutes, locked in an 8-8 game.

Then Duke turned it on and powered its way to an 87-52 victory on Thursday night in the semifinals of the 2K Empire Classic.

"This is a great test for us to learn what the best looks like," said first-year Cal coach Mark Fox, who lost for the first time. "They have a great team and a very complete team."

Cal (4-1) will play in the third-place game Friday against Texas (4-1), which lost 82-66 to Georgetown in the other semifinal. The game will be played at 2 p.m. PT and shown on ESPN2.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski won for the 217th time while directing a No. 1-ranked team to tie John Wooden for most ever in that category.

Duke freshman Vernon Carey Jr.,one of the nation's top recruits, had his way with the Bears. The 6-foot-10, 270-pound center totaled 31 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocked shots in 23 minutes on the floor.

At the other end, Duke (5-0) simply suffocated the Bears. The Blue Devils forced Cal to set up its offense 5-to-10 feet above the 3-point line and closed out on 3-point shooters to take away one of Cal's early-season strengths. 

One of Cal's strengths definitely is not rebounding, and that deficiency was exposed. Duke out-rebounded the Bears 50-28 and had 23 offensive rebounds to just 20 defensive boards for Cal. That generated 29 second-chance points.

Duke forced Cal into 15 turnovers and scored 19 points off the giveaways.

Cal's largest lead was 2 points - Duke was up 37 points late in the game. 

This outcome is not an indictment of the new Mark Fox coaching regime and is does not devalue the Bears' first four wins. 

Duke is a machine - think De La Salle High football.

Cal is starting over after back-to-back 8-win seasons. 

This is going to take a while and there are going to be more games like this when Cal faces the best teams in the Pac-12. 

The key is how much the Bears can grow from this experience. Can they compete with or beat Texas? Can they show progress down the road when they face other elite-level programs?

The past two seasons there was rarely any visible progress. We saw that in the first four games; it's hard to identify in a 35-point loss.

Now we should expect to see that improvement.

Senior guard Kareem South and D.J. Thorpe each scored eight points to lead the Bears, who shot 36 percent. 

Matt Bradley, who entered the game averaging 20 points, was a focus of Duke's defensive attention and scored just seven points on 2-for-6 shooting.

PRE-GAME: How much of a chance does the Cal basketball team have against No. 1 Duke tonight at Madison Square Garden?

Not much chance at all, say the Vegas oddsmakers, who have the Blue Devils as a 19-point favorite to even the all-time series between the teams at 2-2.

That’s right, Cal has a 2-1 edge against Duke. How many teams can claim that?

Checking Basketball Reference, I learned that North Carolina has a 98-84 all-time advantage in their Tobacco Row rivalry. Not surprising.

Kentucky leads Duke 10-9. Arizona, Arkansas and Purdue currently have bragging rights. You’re not going to like this, but Stanford holds the same 2-1 edge on Duke that Cal enjoys.

The most shocking revelation was that St. Peter’s (admit it, you’ve never heard of them) actually has a 2-0 edge over Duke, although the teams most recently played 47 years ago (long before Coach K arrived).

(Let me say this: If I’m St. Peter’s — the Peacocks, by the way, from Jersey City, NJ, and a member of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Yes, if I’m St. Peter’s, I am NEVER agreeing to play Duke again. I’m holding on forever to that 2-0 historical edge over one of the game’s great blue-blood programs.)

Anyway, that is the entire list of teams who have played Duke more than once and have an all-time series advantage.

Virginia, as good as it is, would have sweep two games a year from the Blue Devils for the next 33 seasons just to pull even. Steph Curry’s old school, Davidson, trails 48-4 all-time. Wake Forest has lost to Duke 119 times.

So, Cal fans, your school is on that short list of eight schools (along with UNC, Kentucky, Arizona, Arkansas, Purdue, Stanford and mighty St. Peter’s) who have played Duke more than once and own a winning record.

Enjoy it. Celebrate it. Propose a toast to it.

One piece of advice: Do it quick. Tipoff is 6 p.m. on ESPN2.

Check back for updates.

CAL STARTING LINEUP: You know it by now . . . G Joel Brown, G Matt Bradley, G Kareem South, F Grant Anticevich, C Lars Thiemann.

15:43 1st H: Cal playing a zone in order to stay in front of Duke's superior athletes but also because the Blue Devils have shot poorly from the perimeter so far this season. Neither team shooting it well -- Cal 2-for-5, Duke 2-for-8. Lead has changed hands four times already. Duke 6, Cal 4.

11:17 1st H: Cal has switched to a man defense, but both are working pretty well. Duke is shooting just 3-for-14 from the field. Problem is, the Bears are struggling to crack Duke's defense also. Freshman big man Vernon Carey has 5 points, 3 rebounds and 2 blocks. Cal 8, Duke 8.

8:00 1st H: Duke on a 12-3 run and is threatening to take over. Carey leads all scorers with 10 points. Cal shooting just 25 percent (4-for-16). The Bears came into the game 4th in the NCAA from the 3-point arc at 45%, but they are 0-for-1 from deep. Duke is giving them nothing outside. Duke 18, Cal 11.

3:44 1st H: Duke's defense is simply preventing Cal from getting any shots it wants. And the few point-blank shots the Bears have taken mostly have been rejected. Duke has 3 blocks and the Bears are shooting 27 percent. Duke isn't shooting a great percentage from deep, but Tre Jones has made two and the Blue Devils have five 3-pointers. Duke 29, Cal 16.

HALFTIME: Duke 40, Vernon Carey Jr. 21, Cal 21. The Duke freshman big man is doing whatever he wants. He has 21 points on 7-for-11 from the field. He is 6-for-7 at the FT line. He has 7 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. The guy hit a 3-pointer, and he's 6-foot-10, 270 pounds, for crying out loud. 

Cal, meanwhile, has found no rhythm offensively -- zilch. The Bears are shooting 29 percent (in part because Duke has blocked four shots), they have 7 turnovers and they only have managed to get up four 3-pointers (making 2) against a Duke defense that seems to know exactly what Cal wants to do.

Duke's 25-14 rebounding edge includes 10 offensive boards, which the Blue evils have turned into 13 points. Carey has five of those offensive boards.

Kareem South leads Cal with 7 points -- no one else has more than 4. Matt Bradley, who came into the game averaging 20 points, has 4 points on 1-for-5 shooting (0-for-2 on threes). He also has two turnovers and three personal fouls. 

Since the score was tied at 8-8, the Blue Devils have outscored Cal 32-13 over 12 minutes.

Could be a very good long second half for the Bears.

18:06 2nd H: Good start to the second half by the Bears. Lars Thiemann with a nice baby hook for a basket. Andre Kelly with a cutback and free throw for a three-point play. And Bradley with his first made 3-pointer of the game. Cal outscores Duke 8-3 to open the period. Duke 45, Cal 29.

15:35 2nd H: The Blue Devils are completely in charge again. Carey now has 26 points. His dad apparently played offensive line in the NFL, and Carey looks like he could do the same. Not just big and powerful, but quick and agile. Blew by Lars Thiemann at one point and finished with a finger roll. Cal now has 9 turnovers and Duke has cashed them for 15 points. Second-chance points are 15-6. Duke is very good, Cal is building. This was entirely predictable. Duke 52, Cal 31.

13:20 2nd H: Duke used a 12-1 run punctuated by Alex O'Connell's monster driving dunk to lead 57-32. Jacobi Gordon answered with a 3-pointer for Cal. Duke 57, Cal 35.

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