Cal MBB falls to USC

On Saturday, Cal men’s basketball fell to USC by a final score of 76-68. USC freshman forward Evan Mobley led the way for the Trojans with 25 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals while Cal senior forward Grant Anticevich and Cal sophomore guard Joel Brown each had 15 points for the Golden Bears. For Brown, that was a career-high. Cal junior guard Matt Bradley returned from his ankle injury, finishing with 11 points. USC improves to 12-3 overall and 6-2 in the Pac-12 while Cal falls to 7-10 overall and 2-8 in the Pac-12.

“Really a hard fought game,” Cal head coach Mark Fox said after the game. “Disappointed for our team with the result, but USC really has a good team and obviously Evan Mobley is an elite talent and really just a marvelous player. Their team played well. I thought our team competed hard, but we just made too many little errors in the first 39 minutes that just cost you the game. When you are dealing with a talent deficit, those little mistakes add up.”

USC jumped out to a 13-4 lead with 15:55 to go in the first half. Evan Mobley was crushing Cal inside with 8 points. It was a slow start for the Bears as only Jarred Hyder and Andre Kelly were on the board with 2 points each. The only real bright spot for Cal was the fact that Matt Bradley had checked in. He was going through warmups, but was listed as a game time decision. Seeing him step on the floor was the final confirmation that he was indeed going to lace up his high tops and play.

“Matt and I met with our medical staff around noon and he practiced yesterday,” Fox explained. “He had no swelling. We felt it was time to bring him back. I thought under the circumstances, he did really a nice job. He should have been out of rhythm and he was. But he competed hard.”

With 12:31 to go in the half, USC’s lead was cut to three points (17-14) as Cal was on an 8-0 run sparked by a triple from Joel Brown and Makale Foreman. USC called for time trying to regroup.

“I thought Joel played well,” Fox said. “Joel got some open lanes to the basket and he took advance of those. Joel’s continuing to grow and develop. Defensively he was solid.”

The game would remain tight as USC led 22-18 with 7:37 to go in the half. Mobley was still at 8 points as the leading scorer for the Trojans. Brown was the leading scorer for Cal with 5 points on 2-2 shooting from the field and 1-1 shooting from 3-point line. Cal was back in the game.

Cal would inch ahead to lead 25-24 with 5:00 to go in the half. Bradley was up to 5 points after a nice triple. With 3:40 to go in the half, the game was tied 27-27 after a 3-pointer from USC guard Tahj Eaddy. He was up to 8 points for the Trojans, doing a nice job of providing them with sound backcourt play.

At halftime, USC led 35-34. Bradley had a huge bucket for Cal to beat the buzzer, making it a one point lead for the Trojans. He was up to 7 points. Brown and Anticevich each had 8 points for Cal. Eaddy led USC and all scorers with 12 points.

The second half was off to a solid start for Cal as they led 42-40 with 15:54 to go. Brown was up to 10 points and Hyder was up to 6 points following a nice 4-point play. Cal was hanging tough, doing everything they could to stay in front.

Cal would lead 52-51 with 10:47 to go after D.J. Thorpe got a hoop plus the harm inside. Anticevich (15 points) and Brown (13 points) were pacing Cal. Eaddy (15 points) and Mobley (15 points) were pacing USC. Both teams were finding their groove.

With 7:10 to go, USC led 61-59 as Mobley was up to 17 points and 9 rebounds. Bradley in turn was up to 9 points after a turnaround jumper, having a solid first night back. With Lars Thiemann in foul trouble and Andre Kelly dealing with a hand injury, it was up to Thorpe to carry the load inside.

With 5:57 to go, USC led 64-61 after a technical foul call on Kelly. Eaddy went to the foul line to shoot the two technical foul shots and went 1-2. In hindsight, that ended up being a really big call.

“Andre knows he should have kept his poise,” Fox lamented. “That was a costly play because it cost us two points and it cost us the ball. That was a heavy penalty there and it was adjudicated correctly.”

USC would go up by five points (66-61) with 3:41 to go as Mobley was up to 19 points and 6 rebounds on 8-9 shooting from the field. The NBA scouts in attendance had to be impressed with his performance. It was danger time for Cal.

After shooting colder than the top of Mount Everest for the entire game, Ryan Betley finally came through with a huge 3-pointer for Cal to make it a 68-66 lead for USC with 2:35 to go. With plenty of time left on the clock, Cal had an opportunity to pull this game out.

USC would then go up 70-66 after Isaiah Mobley got a bucket inside followed by a missed 3-pointer from Matt Bradley. With 1:07 to go, USC was now in the driver’s seat. Shortly thereafter, Evan Mobley went to the line and missed two free throws, but USC rebounded the ball. With another crack at it, Evan Mobley got the ball inside and scored. Ryan Betley would respond with a layup. It was now a 72-68 lead for USC with 28 seconds to go.

In the end, USC walked out with a 76-68 victory, padding their stats a bit at the end. It was a hard fought game and Cal gave it their all. The issue was USC’s talent came through down the stretch. It’s tough to win when the opponent is more talented than you and has a projected top-five NBA draft pick to boot.

“He is a once in a decade talent,” Fox said of Mobley. “He has unbelievable length. And so for us, we were trying to keep him away from the basket. He made his free throws tonight. He’s a great player. He’s a guy if he decides to go pro, he’ll be the top pick in the draft. He’s an excellent player.”

While it’s certainly huge for Cal to know that they’ll have Matt Bradley back for the second half of Pac-12 play, they still need to get more out of their role players. Especially grad transfers Makale Foreman and Ryan Betley. Foreman finished with 5 points while Betley finished with 7 points. Foreman attempted just three field goals all game while Betley shot an abysmal 2-10 from the field. Those guys have to do better going forward.

Still, despite these shortcomings, Mark Fox remains optimistic about the second half of Pac-12 play. He feels that now that they finally have everyone back, there’s a chance to make some noise.

“Well it’s the first time we’ve had everybody since like October,” Fox explained. “So, it’s the first time since October since we’ve had everybody. Now we have to see if we can develop some continuity with our offense and rotation. It’s going to take Matt some time. I want everybody to be patient with him. I hope now going forward we can build on the team we thought we had back in November.”

Touching more on Bradley, Fox said it’s going to take him a little bit of time to get back up to full strength, but he’s pleased with what he saw tonight. He like Bradley’s overall approach and mentality in his first night back.

“One of the things we talked about is he’s not going to have the ability to change directions as we explosively as he did before,” Fox said. “Just let the game come to him until he got into a rhythm and I think for the most part he did that. It’s hard to miss three weeks of elite play. I thought his approach was good.”

Not to be lost in this loss is the fact that Joel Brown had a career-high 15 points to along with 7 rebounds and 1 assist on 6-8 shooting from the field, 2-2 shooting from 3-point range, and 1-2 shooting from the foul line. It was his best game in a Cal uniform and something that he can certainly build on going forward.

“I mean today, I was just being aggressive,” Brown said. “My teammates did a great job of executing on plays that opened up plays for me and allowing me to get in there and penetrate for others to make shots…Yeah, so playing with Makale and Jared, sometimes they’ll bring up the ball, which moves me to the 2. A lot of teams do their scouting report and leave me open and stuff like that. For me it’s just staying confident. Continue shooting and staying confident.”

Up next for Cal is a road trip to the desert to face the Arizona schools. Up first will be Arizona State on Thursday, January 28. That game will tip off at 8:00 PM PST on FS1 and KGO 810 AM.

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