Cal’s modest two-game win streak ran smack into something it couldn’t answer — Florida’s quickness.
The No. 23 Gators broke open a slow-paced game with a 29-12 burst over the final 8-plus minutes of the first half and were never again threatened by the Bears in an 80-60 decision at the Fort Myers Tip-Off on Monday night.
“We just got overwhelmed the last 8 minutes of the first half," Cal coach Mark Fox said. "They’re an excellent team, but we're certainly very disappointed in how we played."
Florida (4-0) led by 46-27 at the half and by as many as 26 points in the second period. The Gators will face Ohio State in Wednesday’s championship game of the four-team event.
Cal (2-3) gets another nationally ranked opponent Wednesday when it faces No. 21 Seton Hall (3-1), a 79-76 loser to the Buckeyes, despite 29 points from senior guard Jared Rhoden.
The Bears’ game on Wednesday tips off at 3 p.m. on FS1.
The Bears haven’t beaten a Top-25 team on the road since a 74-73 win at USC on Jan 8, 2017. Cal is 2-19 vs. ranked teams since the start of the 2016-17 season, 1-12 in neutral or road games against Top-25 foes.
Transfer guard Jordan Shepherd led the Bears with 15 points but senior forward Andre Kelly, coming off a 29-point, 15-rebound effort vs. Southern Utah, never found room to operate. He managed just four shot attempts while posting nine points and four rebounds.
“We didn’t get the ball entered as cleanly as we would like to," said Fox, who talks in the video above about the impact of Florida's defensive quickness in the half court.
Senior forward Grant Anticevich, another player from whom the Bears need scoring, had just six points and two rebounds.
If there was a small ray of light it was the play of junior center Lars Thiemann, who came off the bench to score eight points on 3-for-3 shooting and grab three rebounds in 16 minutes. He also blocked a dunk try by Elijah Kennedy.
Cal shot reasonably well, hitting 44 percent for the game, but made just 2 of 10 from 3-point range and turned the ball over 18 times against the Gators’ quick pressure defense, which Florida used to generate 19 points.
The Bears generally controlled tempo through the game’s first 10 minutes or so and also avoided fouling much in the early going. The score was even at 17-all after Joel Brown scored on a drive with 8:47 left.
But Florida’s quickness and defensive pressure, including a full-court press through much of the half, began to cause the Bears to rush, then lose their composure.
A half-step slow defensively at the point of attack, Cal sent Florida players to the free-throw line seven times in the final 10 1/2 minutes of the period and the Gators cashed in.
“We fouled too much so every possession they were at the free throw line," said Fox who talks more on the same topic in the video above. "We just got no stops."
Cal tried to counter by going to a zone defense, but guard Myreon Jones answered that by hitting three 3-pointers in the final 3:11 of the half.
The combination was disaster for Cal. Florida outscored the Bears 29-12 over the final 8-plus minutes to surge into commanding 46-27 halftime lead. The Gators shot 50 percent from the field, were 6 for 11 on 3’s and 14 for 15 from the foul line in the half.
Cal dipped to 41 percent for the half, made just 1 of 4 from deep and missed four of their 12 free throw tries. The Bears turned the ball over seven times in the half and Florida turned them into nine points.
Cover photo of Cal's Andre Kelly by Matt Pendleton, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo