BERKELEY, Calif. — There have been plenty of ugly performances for the Colorado men’s basketball team at Cal’s Haas Pavilion.
None of them were uglier, or more deflating, than the effort that unfolded Saturday. In an up-and-down first half of the season, the Buffaloes bid farewell to 2022 with their biggest dud yet, dropping an 80-76 decision against a woeful Golden Bears squad that entered the game with one win and ranked last in the Pac-12 in several significant categories.
Cal certainly didn’t look the part against the Buffs, as the Bears handed CU a result that could ultimately prove crippling to any designs on reaching the NCAA Tournament. The Buffs saw their six-game winning streak come to an end while falling to 2-8 at Haas Pavilion since joining the Pac-12.
“It was the most pathetic and disappointing defensive effort that I’ve been a part of that I can remember,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “There’s no pride. Our guards can’t get through ball screens. We had nobody on our team who could even think about guarding Joel Brown. He took us off the bounce whenever he wanted.
“I’m dumbfounded as a coach. I haven’t generated enough habits with this team. They don’t feel my sense of the importance of defense and rebounding that I do. That’s a disconnect that I have to connect.”
Cal doubled its win total despite playing without leading scorer Devin Askew, who has battled a foot injury in recent weeks, but his absence wasn’t noticed. The Bears entered the game ranked last in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage but proceeded to torch the Buffs’ lackadaisical defense, finishing 58.0% overall and 7-for-13 on 3-pointers. Brown went 9-for-14 and scored 14 of his career-high 21 points in the second half.
CU led only briefly early, but the Bears built a 39-27 lead at halftime and kept extending the margin throughout the second half, pushing it to 21 points with 6 minutes, 41 seconds remaining. The Buffs finished just 7-for-26 on 3-pointers — a dismal figure that still was bolstered by a late flurry — and were outrebounded 36-23 by a Cal team ranked last in the Pac-12 in average rebounding margin.
Individually, point guard KJ Simpson again was a standout, shaking off an ankle injury he suffered late in the first half to finish with 25 points, five assists and three rebounds. J’Vonne Hadley was solid, going 8-for-11 with a season-high 17 points. But the rest of the team went just 12-for-35 (34.3%).
“When you get off to a slow start, and you come in acting like the game is just going to be handed to you, it’s hard,” Simpson said. “We just didn’t guard. There’s no special thing that happened that affected us on our end. We just didn’t guard the ball. We didn’t take pride in our defense. We got caught up in the refs. We got in not making shots and we didn’t pride ourselves on defense. Which is what we’re supposed to do.”
CU managed to make the Bears sweat out the finish, using an all Simpson-and-Hadley 12-0 run to get within six. A pair of Simpson 3-pointers left Cal needing to make a free throw with 6.3 seconds left, otherwise the Buffs would have had an opportunity at a game-tying 3-pointer. But Brown ended the drama by making the free throw.
Ultimately it was far too little, too late.
“When you don’t play defense and you don’t rebound, you rely on making threes. You rely on making shots,” Boyle said. “We’re not good enough shot makers, we’re not good enough free throw shooters, to rely on that night in and night out. So we’d better be able to rely on our defense and rebounding, which I talk about all the time, but this team hasn’t accepted that and put it in their DNA. That’s on me. I’m not sure I’ve been part of a more disappointing loss from a defense and rebounding standpoint.”
Snapshot: CU Buffs at Cal
Turning point: Cal reeled off a 12-0 run in the early stages and never looked back, leading the contest the rest of the way.
Buff of the game: KJ Simpson. Despite turning his right ankle late in the first half, Simpson finished with 25 points, five assists, three rebounds and a pair of steals.
What’s next?: The Buffs will attempt to regroup ahead of a Thursday night home game against Oregon (7 p.m., ESPN2/U).