FRESNO, Calif. — True road games aren’t for the faint of heart. The crowds are as relentless as they are unforgiving, and when gyms gets rocking, the familiarly colored, glossy hardwood is no place to find asylum.
Three hours south of home, Cal men’s basketball suffered its worst loss of the young season at the Save Mart Center, falling to Fresno State, 95-73.
It wasn’t just one area of the game that sunk the Bears, but rather a litany of issues that worked hand in hand with one another.
The one area in particular that stood out because of the way it affected the flow of the game was Cal’s foul fest.
Seven Bears were whistled for at least three fouls, and the team finished with 28 personal fouls, tied for the most in a single games since Wyking Jones took over. That constant whistle-blowing resulted in Fresno State taking 38 free throws, the most an opponent has shot since Jones took over.
“I felt like we were both playing the same kind of defense,” Jones said. “They got calls, we didn’t get calls.”
The lack of cohesive ball movement was once again an issue for the Bears, and it showed up in the stat sheet in the form of 10 assists to 15 turnovers. Save for redshirt junior Paris Austin and sophomore Justice Sueing scoring 20 points each, Cal struggled to string together buckets and stay in the game.
“Once we got down by a large margin late, we needed to go, we needed to get quick baskets, so we spread the floor and looked to drive,” Jones said. “At that point, trying to get assists wasn’t the priority. It was trying to get a bucket, trying to get a score, trying to get fouled to stop the clock.”
While Cal’s offensive breakdowns led to giveaways and poor shots, Fresno State moved the ball beautifully and consistently found the open man, ending the game with 17 assists and six players in double figures.
If fouls and turnovers weren’t enough, Cal also allowed Fresno State to pull down 12 offensive rebounds, tied for the most the Bears have allowed all season.
It didn’t help Cal that freshman Connor Vanover was out of commission because of a broken nose and concussion he sustained against Cal Poly, but the boards were more a function of Fresno State’s tenacity.
On one possession, the Bulldogs’ Sam Bittner, who ended with three offensive boards, nearly injured himself going for an offensive board when he slammed into the hardwood after lunging for the rock.
“They wanted it more than we did tonight,” Jones said. “They were the tougher team and you see it in that stat.”
Cal came out of the gates with some energy, scoring the game’s first six points, while Fresno State missed its first four attempts. Through five minutes, the Bears had jumped out to a 12-4 lead.
But after that quick start, the Bears began to get sloppy on both ends of the floor. Fresno State went to its suffocating full-court press, one that made Cal’s ballhandlers uncomfortable and generated turnovers.
When the Bears did make it into the frontcourt, there were numerous possessions in which the offense stagnated and someone was forced to play hero ball, which resulted in bad shots and giveaways.
Even with those empty possessions, Cal ended the half shooting 52 percent from the field compared to Fresno State’s 46.4 percent. The big difference, however, was the fouls.
The Bears fouled up a storm, ending the first half with 13 personal fouls, which resulted in the Bulldogs attempting 21 free throws. Sophomore Grant Anticevich and freshman Matt Bradley both ended the half with three fouls.
It wasn’t just the quantity of fouls, either. In the first half, Austin, Bradley and sophomore Darius McNeill all fouled shooters on 3-point attempts, and Anticevich was called for a technical foul after chirping for believing he was fouled.
Despite these mistakes, Cal went into the halftime break only down 44-32. Not the best place to be, especially on the road, but still in striking distance.
Any chance of a second-half comeback was eviscerated when the Bulldogs got as hot as the Bears did cold. Fresno State came out of the locker rooms clicking on all cylinders, making its first six shots and extending its lead to 20 points before hitting the four-minute mark.
Cal managed to exceed its 13 first half personal fouls with 15 in the second half, some of which were pointless grabs that resulted in an and-one.
Austin and Sueing did most of their damage in the second half, scoring 25 combined points on 8 of 15 shooting.
The Bears sought after the three-pointer in the second half to try and narrow the deficit, but they only connected on 2 of 12 attempts.
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