Golden Bears Suffer Blue Christmas

OAKLAND - In the end, it turns out an 11-day layoff did more than leave the Golden Bears well-rested and healthy. It also left them rusty and out of synch, and, at the end of the 9th Pete Newell Challenge at the Arena in Oakland, it left them with a disappointing defeat to DePaul, 68-65.

After spotting the Blue Demons early leads of 9-2 and 14-5, Cal played solid defense through the final 14 minutes of the first half, finishing it with a 31-29 lead. They also followed their pre-game plan well, getting the ball inside and drawing 11 fouls on the young DePaul squad.

Cal made hay at the charity stripe as they converted eight of their final 10 free throw opportunities after missing three of their first four early in the half. The Golden Bears were in the bonus situation for almost six minutes of the first stanza, while they committed just five team fouls themselves. DePaul did not get to the free throw line in the first half.

Leon Powe led all scorers with nine first-half points, and DeVon Hardin added six. DePaul guards Jabari Currie and Sammy Mejia each tallied seven at the break.

Cal, which had worked the ball inside frequently against DePaul's 2-3 zone in the first period, changed tactics at the half and began shooting from outside the arc. DePaul tied the game at 31 on their first possession of the second half, but Cal went on an 11-6 run over the next three minutes, including three three-point baskets, two from Ayinde Ubaka.

As the Bears lived by the three, they also died by it. Part of the game plan was to get some open looks for senior Richard Midgley, but it was to no avail. Midgley entered the contest shooting 47% from three-point range and needing only two long-range buckets to tie Randy Duck for third all-time on the Cal list. Instead, the usually reliable shooting guard was 0-for-6 from three-point range.

Don't pin this loss on the gritty native of Burgess Hill, England, though.

"We pride ourselves on defense," said Cal coach Ben Braun in the post-mortem, "and I thought we let ourselves down in the second half. They were doubling us in the paint (on offense). We are going to have to deal with that all year."

Indeed, the team seemed out of rhythm most of the evening. DePaul head coach Jerry Wainwright was sympathetic to Braun's difficulties.

"I heard Ben say yesterday this is the first game where he's had everyone available. That's good, but it's also difficult." Wainwright went on to explain that incorporating new resources means changing playing patterns and substitution rotations, and forces a team to re-develop its chemistry.

Both teams gave good effort in the game, but they came from opposite sides of the spectrum. DePaul was playing the fourth game of a four-game road trip - academically on the quarter system; the Blue Demons have been out of classes all month, and on the road for about 10 days. While difficult, this tends to bond a team and develop chemistry and trust.

Wainwright noted how difficult it was for Leon Powe to come back after 629 days between games, as he did November 30: "You can have a million dollar house up on a hill; if nobody lives in it for two years, it's still worth a million dollars, but when you turn on the faucet, you're gonna get some rust."

Wainwright says that both teams are rapidly improving, and he was particularly impressed with the play of DeVon Hardin. "He plays with great enthusiasm, and what a physical specimen! If I looked like that, I'd spend all day walking around in a Speedo."

Without question, Hardin has made tremendous strides in the past year - he plays with great court presence and poise now, and no longer seems to be a foul magnet. In the three-guard offense that Braun employs, Omar Wilkes is clearly a tremendous asset - his outside shooting kept Cal in the game. Wilkes finished 5-for-10 from the field, and shot 60% from beyond the arc, tallying 13 points. Ayinde Ubaka led Cal with 16 points, aided greatly by his 4-of-6 three-point shooting.

The Bears controlled the boards throughout, finishing with a 38-29 edge that was particularly noticeable at the DePaul end of the floor, where the Blue Demons only tallied six offensive rebounds the entire game. However, they scored 10 second-chance points off those six rebounds; this was where Cal's defensive failings were most glaring.

In the second half, DePaul took the ball inside more, and it paid great dividends, as they converted eight of the nine layups they shot in the half. Guard Sammy Mejia, who led all scorers with 20 points, did much of the damage.

"I thought DePaul got the ball on some isolations and posts at key moments in the second half. We didn't do a very good job at our post positions (on defense), and I don't mean just with our post players. We just didn't get the help," lamented Braun.

His analysis was spot-on. Time and again in the second half, DePaul would bring the ball into the low post, and instead of turning the attack back into the paint, the Golden Bear defense would be split without helping out, leaving a free path along the baseline.

Braun seemed to feel the team lacked some intensity, particularly on defense, and he was clearly concerned that Cal will open the Pac-10 season having gone 23 days since their last victory.

"Our spirit can't die. The score can't dictate your toughness. Your team has to play tough the whole game."

Braun, who started the post-game press conference standing behind a lectern, joked that he would "go back to my teaching days." He was as good as his word - after most of the media left the room, Braun spent several minutes earnestly talking to Ayinde Ubaka, who is playing with much more confidence this season, but who seemed, post-game, to be subdued and rather "down". Braun repeated to Ubaka what he had already told the press - that the 6-3 non-conference record was a good learning experience, because Cal racked it up against decent to very good competition, instead of piling up wins against a soft schedule.

Nevertheless, this was a game that was there for the taking. Solid outside shooting gave the Bears a seven-point lead with 7:10 left in the game. Then, instead of putting down the hammer on a young DePaul team, the Bears seemed to become tentative, then anxious, finally forcing up poor shots and committing four turnovers in the final 3:22.

Rod Benson had a frustrating evening - while he collected seven rebounds, including four on the offensive glass, he was only 2-of-7 from the field and committed five turnovers. Cal entered the game averaging 5.5 fewer turnovers per game than their opponents. Tonight they had 13 giveaways and only 10 takeaways. It's a truism that you win close games if you take care of the basketball.

You lose close ones when you don't, and the Golden Bears turned what should have been a victory into what they hope was a learning experience.

The players head home for the holidays, and will next see action December 29 at USC against a Trojan team that upset 17th-ranked North Carolina, 74-59, then against UCLA on New Year's Eve Day. The 12th-ranked Bruins narrowly avoided an upset loss themselves, and will likely be loaded for bear by next weekend.


©Copyright 2005, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this very active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.


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After spotting the Blue Demons early leads of 9-2 and 14-5, Cal played solid defense through the final 14 minutes of the first half, finishing it with a 31-29 lead. They also followed their pre-game plan well, getting the ball inside and drawing 11 fouls on the young DePaul squad.

Cal made hay at the charity stripe as they converted eight of their final 10 free throw opportunities after missing three of their first four early in the half. The Golden Bears were in the bonus situation for almost six minutes of the first stanza, while they committed just five team fouls themselves. DePaul did not get to the free throw line in the first half.

Leon Powe led all scorers with nine first-half points, and DeVon Hardin added six. DePaul guards Jabari Currie and Sammy Mejia each tallied seven at the break.

Cal, which had worked the ball inside frequently against DePaul's 2-3 zone in the first period, changed tactics at the half and began shooting from outside the arc. DePaul tied the game at 31 on their first possession of the second half, but Cal went on an 11-6 run over the next three minutes, including three three-point baskets, two from Ayinde Ubaka.

As the Bears lived by the three, they also died by it. Part of the game plan was to get some open looks for senior Richard Midgley, but it was to no avail. Midgley entered the contest shooting 47% from three-point range and needing only two long-range buckets to tie Randy Duck for third all-time on the Cal list. Instead, the usually reliable shooting guard was 0-for-6 from three-point range.

Don't pin this loss on the gritty native of Burgess Hill, England, though.

\"We pride ourselves on defense,\" said Cal coach Ben Braun in the post-mortem, \"and I thought we let ourselves down in the second half. They were doubling us in the paint (on offense). We are going to have to deal with that all year.\"

Indeed, the team seemed out of rhythm most of the evening. DePaul head coach Jerry Wainwright was sympathetic to Braun's difficulties.

\"I heard Ben say yesterday this is the first game where he's had everyone available. That's good, but it's also difficult.\" Wainwright went on to explain that incorporating new resources means changing playing patterns and substitution rotations, and forces a team to re-develop its chemistry.

Both teams gave good effort in the game, but they came from opposite sides of the spectrum. DePaul was playing the fourth game of a four-game road trip - academically on the quarter system; the Blue Demons have been out of classes all month, and on the road for about 10 days. While difficult, this tends to bond a team and develop chemistry and trust.

Wainwright noted how difficult it was for Leon Powe to come back after 629 days between games, as he did November 30: \"You can have a million dollar house up on a hill; if nobody lives in it for two years, it's still worth a million dollars, but when you turn on the faucet, you're gonna get some rust.\"

Wainwright says that both teams are rapidly improving, and he was particularly impressed with the play of DeVon Hardin. \"He plays with great enthusiasm, and what a physical specimen! If I looked like that, I'd spend all day walking around in a Speedo.\"

Without question, Hardin has made tremendous strides in the past year - he plays with great court presence and poise now, and no longer seems to be a foul magnet. In the three-guard offense that Braun employs, Omar Wilkes is clearly a tremendous asset - his outside shooting kept Cal in the game. Wilkes finished 5-for-10 from the field, and shot 60% from beyond the arc, tallying 13 points. Ayinde Ubaka led Cal with 16 points, aided greatly by his 4-of-6 three-point shooting.

The Bears controlled the boards throughout, finishing with a 38-29 edge that was particularly noticeable at the DePaul end of the floor, where the Blue Demons only tallied six offensive rebounds the entire game. However, they scored 10 second-chance points off those six rebounds; this was where Cal's defensive failings were most glaring.

In the second half, DePaul took the ball inside more, and it paid great dividends, as they converted eight of the nine layups they shot in the half. Guard Sammy Mejia, who led all scorers with 20 points, did much of the damage.

\"I thought DePaul got the ball on some isolations and posts at key moments in the second half. We didn't do a very good job at our post positions (on defense), and I don't mean just with our post players. We just didn't get the help,\" lamented Braun.

His analysis was spot-on. Time and again in the second half, DePaul would bring the ball into the low post, and instead of turning the attack back into the paint, the Golden Bear defense would be split without helping out, leaving a free path along the baseline.

Braun seemed to feel the team lacked some intensity, particularly on defense, and he was clearly concerned that Cal will open the Pac-10 season having gone 23 days since their last victory.

\"Our spirit can't die. The score can't dictate your toughness. Your team has to play tough the whole game.\"

Braun, who started the post-game press conference standing behind a lectern, joked that he would \"go back to my teaching days.\" He was as good as his word - after most of the media left the room, Braun spent several minutes earnestly talking to Ayinde Ubaka, who is playing with much more confidence this season, but who seemed, post-game, to be subdued and rather \"down\". Braun repeated to Ubaka what he had already told the press - that the 6-3 non-conference record was a good learning experience, because Cal racked it up against decent to very good competition, instead of piling up wins against a soft schedule.

Nevertheless, this was a game that was there for the taking. Solid outside shooting gave the Bears a seven-point lead with 7:10 left in the game. Then, instead of putting down the hammer on a young DePaul team, the Bears seemed to become tentative, then anxious, finally forcing up poor shots and committing four turnovers in the final 3:22.

Rod Benson had a frustrating evening - while he collected seven rebounds, including four on the offensive glass, he was only 2-of-7 from the field and committed five turnovers. Cal entered the game averaging 5.5 fewer turnovers per game than their opponents. Tonight they had 13 giveaways and only 10 takeaways. It's a truism that you win close games if you take care of the basketball.

You lose close ones when you don't, and the Golden Bears turned what should have been a victory into what they hope was a learning experience.

The players head home for the holidays, and will next see action December 29 at USC against a Trojan team that upset 17th-ranked North Carolina, 74-59, then against UCLA on New Year's Eve Day. The 12th-ranked Bruins narrowly avoided an upset loss themselves, and will likely be loaded for bear by next weekend.


©Copyright 2005, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this very active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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