On twitter, California assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel described Monday night’s game against No. 6 Wisconsin as a wonderful opportunity that could define the teams season. Unfortunately for the Bears, Cal failed in its primetime showcase, looking outmatched by a deeper Badgers team, and falling 68-56 at Haas Pavilion.
"Losing isn't respectable... There are no moral victories..." said both David Kravish and Tyrone Wallace.
Despite a valiant Player-of-the-Year performance from Wallace, who finished with 17 points and 7 rebounds, the Bears couldn’t prevail with the rest of the team failing to provide much help. Cal (10-2) was in for a tough game from the start, playing against one of the top teams in the nation, but a good defensive start had them in the game for the first five minutes. However, after some quick missed shots and a large Wisconsin run, the Bears were soon down for good.
Cal was led by Wallace, with few contributions elsewhere. Guard Jordan Mathews contributed another 15 points, with all coming in the second half, but most not coming until the game was well decided. Fellow guard Sam Singer only added two points – the Bears’ first of the game – and nothing else, save for some solid defense against forward Sam Dekker, who started 1-for-4, but finished 5-for-10.
Senior center Kravish had another quiet night, struggling down low against the long Badger interior, unable to get anything going even with his midrange hook shot, adding just eight points and three rebounds.
Head coach Cuonzo Martin said he didn’t think there was anything wrong with Kravish, but did say that "we have to keep working, put him in the best position to score."
Forward Christian Behrens contributed three points to the Bears’ efforts, and missed many early layups and dunks, setting the tone for Cal’s night, after having recorded 44 points in his last three games.
“We missed alot of easy shots, fouled them too many times, the game could've been closer,” said Wallace. The Badgers started 7-for-7 from the free-throw line, and finished 17-of-18.
Cal started off well, with the game against the Badgers tied after five minutes in the first half. However, soon after, Wisconsin took advantage of its size and the Bears’ missed shots (starting 2-of-10) to start building an insurmountable lead. Within five minutes, it had turned into a nine point Badger advantage, and they looked in full control for the rest of the game, save for a brief 6-2 run capped by a Roger Moute a Bidias lay-up that brought Cal within one point, down 17-16. Wisconsin’s largest lead of the half, 12 points, came just 28 seconds before halftime, as the Badgers went into the break with the score 32-20.
"They're a good defensive team,” Martin said. “I think we need to get better in our post defense."
Cal badly missed the injured Jabari Bird, who was still wearing a boot, as Wallace was forced to carry the offensive load without others to create. Martin continued to start with a lineup of Singer, Behrens, Mathews, Kravish, and Wallace that hasn’t changed since Bird’s injury.
Off the bench, Brandon Chauca added zero points in ten minutes and was a relative non-factor in the offense. Normal bench stalwarts Dwight Tarwater, Moute a Bidias and Kingsley Okoroh had minimal impact off the bench, with Okoroh having trouble closing out on outside shooters.
In its first game against a ranked opponent since an early matchup with Texas, Cal struggled with the Badgers length and depth, just as they did with the Longhorns. The Bears were out rebounded 39-29, but the turnover battle was tied 6-6, which allowed Cal to stay in the game. That should have been enough for the game to stay close, but Cal shooting 39% from the field and 69% from the free throw line was simply too much to overcome.
“We missed too many layups, rushed too much in the 2nd half,” Martin said.
"We missed too many easy layups, missed too many shots we usually make,” Wallace said.
The Badgers were led by player of the year contenders Frank Kaminsky, and Decker, who added 14 points each. One of the most complete performances on the floor came from forward Nigel Hayes, who contributed a double-double, and gave the Cal big men fits throughout the game. He tallied 17 points and 13 rebounds, scoring clutch baskets during the few Cal runs in the second half.
“Hayes,” Martin said, “was the difference.”
With just 15 minutes remaining in the game, Cal went on an 11-2 run to cut the lead to eight with just 9:48 to play. However, more missed shots and a stagnant offense plagued the Bears as the Badgers fought off the run and the lead continued to grow. Wisconsin responded with a 19-9 run to take the margin to 18 points with 3:47 remaining, and simply ran out the clock to head back to Madison with an 11-1 record.
Cal began the season with its best start in 55 years, but has struggled mightily in its only two matchups with top-10 teams thus far. As the team approaches Pac-12 play, this loss to Wisconsin proved that there is much improvement needed before the Bears can begin to place themselves amongst the elite Pac-12 programs.