Cal Basketball: Bears' Offensive Shortcomings Exposed at MSG

Paris Austin and his Cal teammates got very few easy shots this week in New York.Photo by Vincent Carchietta, USA Today
Jeff Faraudo

New York City is a long way to go to come home without a victory. 

But Cal, which looked so good offensively through its first three games, clearly  has work to do at that end of the floor after a 62-45 loss to No. 22 Texas on Friday in the third-place game of the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden.

“To play two nationally ranked teams this early in a season where we’re rebuilding was probably an earlier test than maybe would be ideal," first-year coach Mark Fox said. "We’ll use it hopefully as a great lesson on how we have to change and improve. If we use it the right way, this week can be very productive for us. 

"Obviously, two losses is what we’re taking home.”

The Bears (4-2) lost 85-52 to top-ranked Duke the night before and have struggled offensively in their past three games.

Matt Bradley scored 22 points -- including 11-for-11 fro the free-throw line -- but the rest of the Bears combined for just 23 points.

The Bears' offensive woes actually began with their game against -- of all teams -- Prairie View A&M. Cal won that game, but just 54-50, and its problems scoring began bubbling to the surface in that one.

Consider how Cal's offensive production the first three games of the season compares with the past three outings:

-- First three games (Pepperdine, UNLV, Cal Baptist): The Bears averaged 82.7 points, shot 55% from the field, 47% from 3-point range and averaged 12.3 turnovers.

-- Past three games (Prairie View, Duke, Texas): The Bears averaged 50.3 points, shot 37% from the field, 33% on 3's and averaged 16.3. turnovers.

Obviously, Duke and Texas are a major step up in class from the first four games, but it's more than that. Prairie View does not have high-end talent, but challenged Cal with quickness. That's a quality the Bears lack at some positions, and the coaching staff will have to help this team to overcome that deficiency.

Fox wasn't surprised his team didn't shoot well from the perimeter, playing its fourth game in eight days, its second in less than 24 hours after a cross-country flight two days before. They were just 1-for-8 from beyond the arc,

But while Bradley was 11 for 11 at the line, his teammates combined to make just 1 of 9.

"When you’re not going to be making threes, you’ve got to make free throws. We had some opportunities at the line and didn’t convert those," Fox said.

"The little things that you have to do when you don’t make threes we didn’t do. We played two really good teams. Hopefully we’ll learn a lot from this.”

CAL LINEUPS: The Bears are using the same lineup that have gone with all season with G Matt Bradley, G Joel Brown, G Kareem South, F Grant Anticevich and C Lars Thiemann.

GAME THREAD: 14:43 1st H: Slow start by the Bears. Texas gets a pair of 3-pointers from Jase Febres and the Bears are shooting 2-for-7, with both baskets from Paris Austin on drives to the hoop. Texas 8, Cal 4. 

11:24 1st H: A good sign for Cal - Matt Bradley, who got very little done against Duke on Thursday, hits a 3-pointer. Earlier this afternoon, Bradley had missed his only shot and fumbled the ball out of bounds. Looked out of sync and needing a confidence boost. Well see how much it carries over. Texas 15, Cal 11. 

7:11 1st H: The offensive struggles continue. Cal has 6 field goals (38%) and 5 turnovers - not a good ratio. The Bears' starting lineup has provided five points - a 3-pointer from Bradley and a putback by Lars Thiemann. Nothing at all from Grant Anticevich, Kareem South or Joel Brown. Texas 17, Cal 13.

HALFTIME: Texas 25, Cal 21. The Bears pulled even at 21-all when Bradley made two FTs with 2:47 left to complete an 8-2 run. But Texas scored twice in the final 70 seconds to regain the upperhand. Cal has not led in the game.

Bradley had 7 points and Austin has 6 for Cal, which is shooting just 36 percent and once again is having trouble just getting a 3-point shot. The Bears  were 1-for-5 from deep in the half. 

The Bears are 8-for-9 shooting in the paint, which means they are 1-for-17 otherwise.

But Cal is defending much better than it did against Duke and holding its own on the boards after being out-rebounded 50-28 by the Blue Devils. The Bears have a 15-12 edge on the boards and have allowed just three offensive rebounds. 

15:54 2nd H: Texas stretching it out again. The Longhorns used a quick 7-0 burst to lead 32-32 before a traditional three-point play, then two free throws -- all by Bradley -- got Cal within 34-28. But we are once again seeing that when the opponent is bigger, quicker and more athletic than the first four teams the Bears played, they are laboring to run their offense and get good shots. Texas 36, Cal 28.

12:26 2nd H: This game is quickly getting away from Cal. The Longhorns are n the midst of a 9-2 and have their biggest lead. Jericho Sims has 10 points and Matt Coleman has seven points and six assists. The Bears are shooting 36 percent, have just 1 3-pointer and only 5 assists. And that rebounding advantage? Gone. The 'Horns have an 8-2 edge on the boards this half. Texas 43. Cal 30.

6;51 2nd H: Matt Coleman just completed a back-cut layup and free throw (the first of the game for Texas) and the Longhorns have pushed their lead back to 13 points. Cal is shooting 35 percent and is 1-for-7 on threes. That won't get it done. Texas 49, Cal 36.

3:35 2nd H: It's pretty much over. Matt Coleman just blasted past Anticevich on the baseline, converted the layup while being fouled and will shoot a free throw that could give Texas a 16-point lead. Makes it. But defense generally has not been Cal's problem today. The Bears just aren't scoring, Matt Bradley has 20 points, everybody else has 23. Texas 59, Cal 43.

PRE-GAME: Cal tries to get back into the win column Friday with another matchup against a Top-25 team, albeit one that will from the rankings with the release of the next poll.

The Bears (4-1) take on No. 22 Texas (4-1) at 2 p.m. PT in a duel of semifinal losers in the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

Cal’s early perfect start under new coach Mark Fox was predictably halted by No. 1 Duke, which overcame early scuffling to win 87-52.

The Longhorns led Georgetown 42-37 at halftime before being outscored by 19 points over the final 20 minutes, losing 82-66 to coach Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas.

The Bears battled Duke to a 8-8 tie through about 8 minutes before 6-foot-10, 270-pound freshman Vernon Carey Jr. began imposing his will. By halftime, the Blue Devils led 40-21.

Carey scored 21 first-half points and wound up with 31 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. His six offensive rebounds helped Duke generate 29 second-chance points. Overall, Cal was out-rebounded 50-28.

“The difference in the game was their ability to rebound the ball. It was a concern of ours going in . . . they’re bigger and more athletic than we are,” Fox said. “They just pounded us on the backboard and subsequently we got in some foul trouble, and we just couldn’t overcome those two things.”

Fox suggested that Carey will be a national player of the year candidate if he continues to play at the level he showed Thursday night.

“His physicality, athleticism and skill combined was a little too much for us,” Fox said.

It wasn’t all bad, Fox said, noting the Bears had good stretches, just not nearly enough of them to stay with a team of Duke’s caliber.

“I think we played the first eight minutes of both halves very well,” he said. “We played in different spurts evenly with them, We just didn’t sustain it.”

That was the Longhorns’ problem, too. After building a five-point halftime lead, they watched Georgetown take the lead for good with a 12-0 run early in the second half. Texas shot just 22 percent after the intermission.

“They deserve a ton of credit, but for us,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “This is a really good game from the standpoint of having to look in the mirror and figure out who we need to be our best.

"Honestly, we weren't that good in the second half.”

The lone bright spot for Texas was junior guard Matt Coleman III, who made all six of his 3-point attempts and scored 22 points. The rest of the Longhorns combined to shoot 32 percent.

Check back for in-game updates.