Cal Basketball: Bears Make Beavers Sweat, But Cannot Close the Deal

Justice Sueing tries to manuever past defender Ethan Thompson.Photo by Al Sermeno, KLC fotos

Cal falls 79-71 at Oregon State, losing for the 11th straight time after trailing by just 2 in the final 2 minutes

Cal showed some guts in a hostile environment Saturday, but the bottom line was the same.

The Bears fought back from an 11-point second half hole, pulling within one point before Oregon State made the timely plays down the stretch to secure a 79-71 victory at Gill Coliseum.

Cal (5-18, 0-11) lost for the 12th straight game, extending its own school record for futility. The Bears have dropped 18 consecutive Pac-12 games, dating back to a home win over the Beavers last Feb. 3.

For a team that hasn’t won since before Christmas, the Bears showed remarkable tenacity. They trailed 53-43 with 13 minutes left and 65-56 with just under 9 to play.

”I thought our guys fought, scrapped, clawed, left it all out on the court. Played really, really hard. Played together,” Cal coach Wyking Jones said.

Despite extreme foul trouble — Justice Sueing, Paris Austin and Juhwan Harris-Dyson each finished with four personals — the Bears rallied behind the late-game efforts of 7-foot-3 freshman Connor Vanover.

Vancouver scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer that made it 66-65 with 5:58 left, then another three that got the Bears within 73-71 with 1:50 left.

But that was their last gasp. Ethan Thompson sandwiched four free throws around a tip-in by Kylor Kelley as the Beavers (15-8, 7-4) scored the game’s final six points to retain a share of second place in the Pac-12.

The Bears return home to play Wednesday against UCLA (12-12, 5-6), which blew a 22-point lead at home Saturday, losing 93-92 to Utah.

Jones remains confident his young team will not give up on itself.

“We just keep fighting. We stay together. We’re a close group, keeping it positive,” he said. “They love each other. It shows on the court.”

Sueing, despite his foul problems, scored 16 points for the Bears, all but two of them in the second half. Darius McNeill also scored 16, but missed all five of his second half shots after making 7 of 9 in the opening period.

Jones praised the play of Vanover, who also had a career-best four blocked shots. Vanover has scored double digits three straight games and is averaging 14.0 points over that span.

“He’s playing very well, playing with a lot of confidence,” Jones said. “He’s always been very good offensively. Now he’s starting to do some things defensively that are really helping us — changing shots, blocking shots. He was a bright spot today.”

While the valiant effort was great, there were plenty of reasons the Bears could not get over the hump.

First of all, OSU made plays when it mattered. Ethan Thompson scored 23 points, brother Stephen Thompson scored 21 points and Tres Tinkle added 19.

“Their veteran guys hit some shots at the end that pretty much cost us the game,” Jones said.

Those three combined to shoot 20 for 34 as the nation’s 351st-ranked field-goal defense allowed the Beavers to convert 54 percent. Nine of the Bears' 11 conference opponents have made at least 50 percent of their shots, including the past five.

As usual, there were also self-inflicted wounds by the Bears.

Fouls were a big issue. Cal struggled to prevent the Beavers from invading their zone defense and committed 22 (compared to 10 for OSU). The Beavers shot 28 free throw, making 23 of them.

“We made a couple fouls we shouldn’t have,” Jones conceded. “It’s just having discipline, having experience.”

Then, down just 68-65 with 4 minutes left, Harris-Dyson hoisted up a wide-open 3-point try. There’s a reason he was open — the sophomore wing is now 0-for-19 on threes in his college career.

Moments later, the Bears left Tinkle wide open on the perimeter, and the redshirt junior swished his 3-point try, pushing OSU’s lead to 71-65.

Cal got close once more on Vanover’s 3-pointer with 1:50 left, but the Bears failed to score on their final three possessions.