Cal Basketball: Imagine This -- Bears Could Be 4-0 When They Face Duke

Jake Curtis

Cal is two games over .500 for the first time since the 2016-17 season after Tuesday's 79-75 overtime victory over UNLV, and that causes the mind to race ahead to what the Bears (2-0) might accomplish over the next week.

While acknowledging that no game is a gimme for this Cal team, it certanly seems reasonable that Cal should be 4-0 when it faces second-ranked Duke in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 21.

The Bears face California Baptist in Berkeley on Friday, then play Prairie View A&M on Monday, also at home. 

California Baptist will not be a pushover. The Lancers are 2-1 and played Texas tough in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday before losing 67-54. Prairie View is 1-2 after losing to Texas State 75-48 on Tuesday.

Then comes Duke in New York.

To get to 4-0, Cal would need to show the defensive intensity in had in the closing minutes of regulation as well as the overtime against UNLV. The Rebels had a nine-point lead with 5:59 remaining in the second half, but Cal outscored UNLV 16-2 over the remainder of regulation time and the first 2:30 of the overtime period.

"This is what is going to shape our identity, just our toughness," said Kareem South, who had 14 points, including a key three-pointer in overtime. "At the moment of truth it's all about the team that's more tougher. I think that's what we showed today."

UNLV shot 59.3 percent from the floor in the first half, and did not have a turnovers until just 40 seconds remained before halftime. But after halftime, UNLV committed 12 turnovers and shot just 40 percent from the field.

"I told the kids at halftime, 'The first team that starts playing defense is going to win,'" Cal coach Mark Fox said after the game on the video, "becasue I don't think either team particularly was great defensively in the first half.

"I think the difference in the second half was turnovers. They had 12; we had five."

UNLV scored just two points in the final 5:59 of regulation, enabling the Bears to catch up. A three-point shot by Joel Brown (14 points) with 4:01 was key, and the Bears eventually tied it with 33.6 seconds left on two free throws by Matt Bradley, who finished with a game-high 23 points.

South started the overtime with a horrible-looking three-point attempt that hit nothing but the backboard, but the next time downcourt, he nailed a three-pointer from the corner for the first points of the extra period. Cal held the lead the rest of the game.

"My mentality is always think the next shot is good," said South, who was unaffected by the bad miss.

One concern going forward may be the health of Paris Austin, who missed two practices because of injury and was hobbled a bit Tuesday, causing him to be on the bench during Cal's late comeback in regulation and the overtime period. He played 23 minutes and finished with 10 points and two assists.

Even without their on-court leader, the Bears showed fortitude in winning in comeback style.

"At the mloment of truth, we locked in and got stops," South said.

Friday's game will be a challenge for the Bears, but if they win that one -- which is certainly possible -- heading to New York City undefeated would feel awfully good for team that won just eight games each of the past two seasons.