For Justice Sueing, basketball is the way it’s supposed to be once more.
“Right now, it’s probably as fun as it’s been all season,” Cal’s sophomore forward said.
After a 16-game losing streak that spanned 76 nightmarish days, the Bears are back on the right side of the ledger.
In fact, they take a three-game win streak into the Pac-12 tournament at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, where they open play Wednesday against Colorado.
Sueing, who hopes to attend medical school one, insists the patient never died at Haas Pavilion. The evidence supports his contention: Cal kept fighting through the losses, and finally was rewarded with a 76-73 win over No. 25 Washington, the Pac-12 champion.
The outcome shook the college basketball world and vanquished the Pac-12 from the Top-25. When your best team loses to perhaps the nation’s worst major college squad there is no rebuttal.
The Bears didn’t care about that. They needed validation that their work and unity were worth it.
“Those (days) were tough. We had to deal with them. We’d gone through a longer stretch than we should have,” he said. “Once we got a win, we finally got out of that funk. I’m glad we got it against Washington, a really good team. It just shows the heart of the team.”
Losing is hard on players and coaches.
Losing for two months is basketball hell.
Stanford’s Jerod Haase expressed his admiration after the Bears beat the Cardinal last Saturday.
“They have played hard consistently. Very rarely do they get blown out of games and they were competing in just about every game,” Haase said. “It doesn’t surprise me they’ve got some wins.”
Sueing said the players and coaches circled the wagons early. “We’re all that we’ve got,” he explained. “Everyone at practice is always motivating one another. Even off the court, nothing changes. We’re always having fun.”
As rough as it’s been on the players, few in social media were demanding they be fired.
But coach Wyking Jones heard it all the time. Goes with the territory when you make $1 million a year and lose three times as often as you win.
Jones has three years left on his original five-year deal and athletic director Jim Knowlton — who didn’t hire him — has said he will evaluate Jones and the program after the season.
To his credit, Jones has never brought up his job status in front of his players, Sueing said.
In fact, Sueing gives Jones a share of the credit for making sure the team never surrendered.
“Coach has done a great job of keeping us together, so that we all know we’re a family. That’s the biggest factor in us sticking together,” he said.
Sueing said no one on campus has griped to him about the Bears’ season or their coach. “I haven’t really got into anything with anybody talking about Coach Y.”
That may not be a good thing, but an indication of apathy around the program. The Bears’ average home attendance of 5,627 was barely 47 percent of capacity and the worst since the facility was renovated nearly 20 years ago.
Asked if the players want their coach back next season, Sueing said, “Of course.”
The 6-oot-7 native of Honolulu said he also will be back, which is not a given in this transfer-happy era of college athletics.
“I’m here at Cal now and that’s all that matters,” he said. “I haven’t had any thoughts of leaving the school.”
That should be a relief to Cal fans because Sueing is the Bears’ best and most versatile player. He leads the team in scoring (14.5 points per game), rebounding (6.1) and steals (1.7). He also has become a better facilitator, averaging 2.5 assists over the past 11 games.
“He makes great decisions,” Jones said. “He knows when to score and when to pass. A lot of times he’s the No. 1 guy on the (opposing) scouting report and does a really good job of playing off the attention without forcing things. He’s creating double teams which allows him to make plays for others.”
Sueing said he sees his role as doing whatever the team needs from him.
“I try to do more than scoring,” he said.
As for his shooting percentages — down a bit from both inside and outside the 3-point arc compared with a year ago — Sueing refuses to assign the blame to the added defensive attention he draws.
“Teams have adjusted to how I play. They see what I can do on the court,” he said. “Even with that said, I feel like I'm not shooting the best I can.”
Sueing is converting 43 percent from the field, and just 29.5 percent on 3-point attempts. But, as advertised, he gave the Bears just what they needed in their three recent wins, contributing 11.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.5 steals.
Yep, basketball is fun again.
“Nothing’s really changed. We’ve always been motivated,” Sueing said, looking to the week ahead in Vegas. “We’re going to go out there and play. Of course we’re trying to get the championship. But we’ll take it one game at a time and go from there.”