Cal could not contain USC’s “once-in-a-decade talent,” but the Golden Bears came away from Saturday night's 76-68 loss to USC with a new sense of their own possibilities.
Evan Mobley, the Trojans’ 7-foot freshman, scored a career-high 25 points and fouled out two Cal defenders while marching to the free throw line with 15 attempts.
“He’s a great player,” Cal coach Mark Fox said. “He’s a guy, if he decides to go pro, could be the top pick in the draft.”
Fox discusses in the video below how impressed he is with Mobley:
Fox, like most coaches, doesn’t have anyone like Mobley on his roster.
But with the return of leading scorer Matt Bradley, sidelined the previous five games with a left ankle injury, Fox finally has his roster intact.
“It’s the first time we’ve had everybody since, like, October,” Fox said. “Now we have to see if we can develop some continuity within our offense, our rotation. But we have some depth now.
“I do think now going forward hopefully we can start to build on the team we thought we would have had back in November. So yes, I am encouraged with that.”
The Bears (7-10, 2-8 Pac-12) hit the road to face Arizona State and Arizona next week so things don’t get easier. But they are coming off games where they lost by 4 and 8 points to the league's two best teams.
Here are some reasons for Fox’s upbeat outlook, despite losing what was a two-point game with less than 3 minutes left.
— Bradley scored 11 points in his return, playing aggressively and showing no apparent limitations due to his ankle. It's fair to say he isn’t yet back in a rhythm after sitting out since the injury vs. Oregon State on Jan. 2.
“It’s going to take Matt a little time. I want everybody to be patient with him because he had a nasty sprain,” Fox said after Bradley shot 5-for-14 from the field ad 1-for-6 on 3’s in 24 minutes.
“We probably got a little bit more than we thought we could. He hasn’t played live in three weeks . . . the conditioning factor, the timing,” Fox said. “He was a little rusty bit he affected the game in a positive way.”
— Sophomore guard Joel Brown was a beneficiary of Bradley’s return. With USC forced to give Bradley attention on the perimeter, driving lanes opened up that allowed Brown to slash to the basket on the way to a career-high 15 points. He also shot 2-for-2 on 3-pointers and grabbed seven rebounds.
Brown talks in the video below about what he was able to do and how Bradley’s return impacts the Bears:
— Grant Anticevich also scored 15 points and has developed a lot of confidence in recent games after undergoing an emergency appendectomy in mid-December. The 6-foot-8 senior has averaged 16.7 points over the past three games.
— Junior forward Andre Kelly has been the Bears’ most consistent player lately, averaging 14.4 points on 76-percent shooting over five games entering play Saturday. Kelly had a tough outing against the Trojans, scoring just six points before fouling out with 3:14 left.
He was involved in a play that may have turned the game in USC’s direction with 5:57 to play and the Bears trailing just 63-61.
Kelly was fouled by Isaiah Mobley, then gave the USC sophomore a gentle shove after the play. That drew a technical foul, which counted as his fourth personal, but also allowed USC to make a free throw and cost the Bears a possession.
“Andre knows he should have kept his poise a little bit. That was a costly play,” said Fox, who had no gripe with the official’s call. “It was adjudicated correctly.”
Here's more from Fox on the play where Kelly drew a "T:"
USC outscored the Bears 13-6 the rest of the way, including 8-2 over the final 2 minutes after Cal had crept within 68-66 on a 3-point basket by Ryan Betley.
Mobley kept drawing fouls — eventually fouling out both Kelly and D.J. Thorpe, who gave the Bears six rebounds. Mobley made 10 of his first 11 free throws, then missed a pair with just under a minute left and the outcome still uncertain.
But he scored on a putback with 36 seconds left and made two more free throws before it was over to complete an impressive showing in what Cal fans hope will be the only time they see him. The Bears and Trojans aren’t scheduled to play again this season.
USC (12-3, 6-2) also got 18 points from Tahj Eaddy, a senior transfer from Santa Clara.