Cal Men's Basketball: Cal MBB battles hard in loss to No. 24 UCLA
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Cal MBB battles hard in loss to No. 24 UCLA

UCLA out-rebounded Cal 38-23.
UCLA out-rebounded Cal 38-23. (D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports)

On Thursday, Cal men’s basketball fell to No. 24 UCLA at home by a final score of 61-57. UCLA redshirt junior forward Cody Riley paced the Bruins with 13 points and 6 rebounds while Cal senior forward Grant Anticevich went off for 21 points on 8-11 shooting from the field and 5-5 shooting from 3-point range. UCLA improves to 12-2 overall and 8-0 in the Pac-12 while Cal falls to 7-9 overall and 2-7 in the Pac-12.

“Really was a hard fought and good college basketball game and I was proud of the competitive effort that we made,” Cal head coach Mark Fox said after the game. “But against a great team we made too many mistakes. You have to play a little more mistake free than we did today. Disappointed that we didn’t walk out with a win.”

UCLA got out to a 9-3 lead with 15:49 to go in the half. UCLA was shooting 3-6 from the field while Cal was shooting 1-5. Without their star player Matt Bradley, it was looking like it could be a long night for the Golden Bears.

To Cal’s credit, they didn’t let their slow start faze them. Anticevich started to get rolling and with 9:27 to go in the first half, UCLA led by just two points (20-18). Anticevich had 8 points while Johnny Juzang had 7 points. Both guys were doing a nice job of keeping their teams in a good flow.

Cal would then take a 28-25 lead with 3:52 to go in the half as Anticevich was going wild with 11 points on 4-5 shooting from the field and 3-3 shooting from 3-point range. Anticevich was making his presence felt and getting back into a nice groove. Both teams were shooting well as Cal was shooting 10-20 (50.0%) from the field and 6-9 from 3-point range while UCLA was shooting 10-19 (52.6%) from the field.

“Not really sure where I’m at,” Anticevich said of how he’s feeling coming back from the appendectomy. “Definitely the first couple of games I wasn’t back to strength, but each game I’m getting more back in shape.”

At halftime, Cal led 36-32. Jalen Celestine knocked down a huge triple for Cal while Cody Riley responded with a tip in for UCLA. Anticevich (11 points) led Cal while Juzang (7 points) led UCLA. Cal was battling tough and doing a good job of controlling the tempo. Having Tyger Campbell in foul trouble also helped the Bears take a four point lead into the half.

“When we’re healthy, we want to play a little faster,” Fox said. “We have to be selective without Matt. We want to find as many easy baskets as we can.”

The game continued to be tight to start the second half as Cal led 41-39 with 17:19 to go. UCLA needed to get the memo that they couldn’t leave Anticevich open. He was up to 14 points on 5-7 shooting from the field and 4-4 shooting from 3-point range. With 15:48 to go, the game was tied 41-41. Jaime Jaquez, Jr. got a bucket inside for UCLA while Anticevich traveled, one of his rare mistakes of the night. It was all tied up at Haas Pavilion.

With 11:49 to go, the game remained tied at 43-43. Cal hadn’t scored in the last 3:19 while UCLA hadn’t scored in the last 2:57. The tempo was favoring Cal for sure. Shortly thereafter, UCLA would score five quick points to lead 48-43 with 10:59 to go. David Singleton knocked down a 3-pointer in the face of Cal’s zone defense followed by a fast break layup from Jules Bernard off a steal from Tyger Campbell. UCLA was looking like they might finally pull ahead, forcing Cal to call for time.

Cal found a way to get right back in the game as UCLA would lead 50-49 with 7:31 to go. Anticevich (18 points) was keeping Cal afloat, but he needed more help. One player who Cal really needed more out of was Ryan Betley, who had just 2 points on 2-4 shooting from the foul line, 0-7 shooting from the field, and 0-4 shooting from 3-point range. If Cal was going to win this game, they’d need him and others to get rolling.

“We have a lot of guys who are great at driving the ball and kicking it out,” Anticevich said. “Having guys around me who can do that helps. My teammates did a great job of playing unselfish basketball and I got a lot of open looks because of that.”

Over the next few minutes the game remained tight as UCLA led 59-55 with 2:08 to go. A jumper from Riley and a triple from Bernard gave UCLA a four point cushion. While UCLA had allowed too many open shots for Anticevich, Cal in turn had given Riley too many open shots of his own.

“Definitely you have to give credit to UCLA,” Anticevich said. “They’re really good and obviously we thought we played well and we’re getting our players back. It was good to compete. Had we gotten some defensive stops, the game could have been ours.”

With 13.6 to go following a bizarre decision by Cal to not foul and allow UCLA to chew up clock, UCLA led 59-57 with the ball after Jarred Hyder made a huge layup for Cal. Cal needed to foul three times to send UCLA to the foul line, really making the clock UCLA’s best friend. Cal would finally send Juzang to the foul line, who would make two clutch free throws to make it a 61-57 lead for UCLA. A lead that UCLA would hold onto until the final buzzer sounded.

“We didn’t rebound it great,” Fox said of what changed in the second half. “We didn’t rebound the ball well in the second half, they outscored us by eight in the second half. We just had a harder time scoring. We shot only 39% in the second half. When we shoot like that we have to be able to get to the free throw line.”

For UCLA, this was a gritty road win. They didn’t play their best basketball, but when you are playing on the road, you’ll take whatever win comes your way. Considering that they too are without their best player Chris Smith, they should be feeling good about their now 8-0 start to Pac-12 play.

“Well we held them to 57 points,” UCLA head coach Mick Cronin told ESPNU after the game. “It was pretty simple. Mark Fox has been doing this a long time. He’s got my old friend Trent Johnson over there. They do a great job. They’re physical. He turned this program around immediately when he got here it’s just a matter of time for what Coach Fox is going to do. You see how hard they play. They play winning basketball. They didn’t win tonight, but they play winning basketball.”

As for Cal, they should feel good about how they battled and competed against a ranked team without their best player Matt Bradley. Grant Anticevich played a fabulous game and for the most part, Cal did a really good job of controlling the tempo. The problem was Cal simply didn’t get Anticevich enough help. Aside from his 21 points, no one else on this Cal team scored in double figures. Makale Foreman (8 points on 2-8 FG) and Ryan Betley (5 points on 1-10 FG) have to do better. They were awful tonight. No way to slice it.

“I thought tonight he was terrific on the offensive end and we just need to get him a little bit more help,” Fox said of Anticevich. “Grant was certainly effective tonight…I think with the four minute timeout, we’re down two. Ended up losing by four. The key to the game is we gotta get to the free throw line some. Especially without Matt. We gotta get to the free throw line to get some cheap points.”

Up next for Cal is a home game against USC on Saturday. That game is scheduled tipoff at 5:00 PM PST on Pac-12 Networks and KGO 810 AM. USC had to postpone their game at Stanford on Thursday due to COVID-19 testing within their own program. It is possible that Saturday’s game gets postponed as well. Something to watch for during the next 40 hours.

Note: This game was the second straight DNP for Cal sophomore center D.J. Thorpe. Mark Fox addressed the status of Thorpe after the game:

“Obviously, Andre has been playing well. DJ continues to improve. Lars is improving also. Some nights we like to get all three in there. We haven’t been able to do that the last two games, but DJ is doing just fine.”