WESTWOOD, Calif. -- After starting the season with six straight wins, the California basketball team has now lost five of the last seven games, falling in the Pac-12 opener on Thursday night to up-and-down UCLA, 79-65, as the Bears fell for the sixth time in their last nine games at the now newly-renovated Pauley Pavilion.
"I thought the kids really competed, and had we made point-blank shots, it could have been a whole different outcome," said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery. "We had 20 offensive rebounds, for goodness sake, and we only had eight foul shots. We obviously weren't able to convert around the basket like we needed to, and I think that could have made a big difference."
After starting the game on a 6-0 run, hitting three of its first four shots, the Bears (8-5, 0-1 in the Pac-12) saw the Bruins go on a 13-6 run of their own, iced by poor ball-handling by Cal, which resulted in an open-look three from Norman Powell at the 13-minute mark. The trey by Powell put UCLA in the lead for the first time, and the Bruins (11-3, 1-0) would never trail again.
After a bucket by Robert Thurman stopped the bleeding and gave the Bears the lead once again, though, the Bruins answered right back with a long two by Travis Wear and then a coast-to-coast steal-and-score by Kyle Anderson to make it 17-14. Anderson scored 19 points and pulled down 12 boards for his fourth double-double of the season.
UCLA went on a 6-0 run over the next 2:47, making it 19-14, before Allen Crabbe took contact on a lay-in and completed the three-point play to pull to within two points. Crabbe finished the night with a game-high 21 points on 10-for-21 shooting, with seven rebounds, but was visibly drained after the game, scoring 16 of the Bears' 37 second-half points.
"We don't have anybody," Montgomery said. "I mean, I have four guards. Total. For six spots. I don't have enough people to practice, so frankly, had we executed earl, I think we could probably have been up a bunch in the first half, because they were missing shots and we didn't execute very well, I didn't feel like."
The Bears went to the foul line just three times in the first half, while the Bruins took 10 shots from the charity stripe, hitting seven. Cal finished the game 5-for-8 from the line, while UCLA went 23-for-31, hitting its last nine from the charity stripe in its 10th consecutive home conference win.
While the Bears effectively shut down star Shabbaz Muhammad in the first half, (1-for-7 shooting, 1-for-3 from three, 3 boards, 5 points), 6-foot-4 sophomore guard Norman Powell was a one-man gang for UCLA, shooting 3-for-4 from the field for eight first-half points.
Powell and forward Travis Wear combined to shoot 8-for-13 on the first half for a total of 19 points, proving an effective inside-out combination while Crabbe and Cobbs combined for just 11 points.
After the half, Muhammad came alive, effectively clogging the lane for Richard Solomon and David Kravish on defense, shooting 4-for-6 from the field, going 2-for-3 from the free-throw line, pulling down three rebounds and scoring 11 second-half points. Solomon, for his part, notched his second career double-double with 11 points and 10 boards on the evening.
"He's not going to just not shoot," Montgomery said of Muhammad. "He's going to shoot the ball, and we made some mistakes defensively. I think that when we get tired, sometimes we take the easy way out, and rather than run back and do what we're supposed to do on the two wings and stop the ball, a couple times we let the ball just go all the way to the basket, rather than do what our job was. We took another approach to it, and then, Muhammad hit a couple tough ones. We got tired on a couple plays where the post guys were supposed to show up, and Muhammad came up and jumped up and shot it in. Fatigue hurt us. There's no question. We didn't stay and do the things we were supposed to do."
Larry Drew II had nine assists and no turnovers, putting him at 47 assists and 6 turnovers on the home stand -- the fifth straight game in which he's had at least nine assists. On the flipside, the Bears committed seven turnovers and were victimized by four first-half steals by UCLA.
After Cal tied things up at 21-21, the Bruins went on a 17-7 tear over the final 8:12 of the first half, taking a 38-28 lead into the locker room.
The Bears went 0-for-13 from three-point range, making it two straight games without a long bomb.
"Allen's really our best three-point shooter, and we don't have a lot of guys who shoot threes," Montgomery said. "As a result of that [...] it would seem like someone would just make one just by luck, if nothing else, but it's something that's a problem right now. They had four and we had none, and that's 12 points that we don't get. But, they had taken things away and we were aggressive to the basket, and now we have to do a good job that way."
Thursday also marked the first time since April 1 of 2006 that UCLA held a team without a three-point field goal, which the Bruins did in the Final Four that year against LSU.
That inability to hit from long range limited what Cal was able to do in the second half, as Solomon and Kravish were frustrated by Travis Wear and Muhammad down low, with Solomon unable to convert second-chance opportunities.
"Other than finishing shots, I was really pleased with Richard competing for boards," said Montgomery, who's Bears out-rebounded the Bruins, 45-37, and 25-11 on the defensive glass. "That's been something we've been on him to try and finish the shots, and really if he had finished those, he would have had a hell of a game."
As the second half dawned, UCLA went on an 8-2 run over the first 2:31 to stretch the lead to a game-high 16 points, 46-30, but the Bears came back with a 6-0 run of their own, capped by a sprawling steal by Crabbe and a fast-break dunk by freshman Tyrone Wallace, but not before Ricky Kreklow -- playing in his first contest after missing the past two games -- went down yet again, rolling his ankle early in the second half.
The injury to Kreklow severely handcuffed the bench, in effect reducing the rotation to six players, with senior Brandon Smith not playing a single minute due to lingering symptoms from a concussion, and junior Jeff Powers only coming on late to spell Wallace.
"It's really tough," Montgomery said. "Guys get tired, and the kind of effort that we needed to have, we got in the second half, where we were on the floor, took some charges, but we got tired. We don't have many ways that we can go. We were going to try to get 10 minutes out of Kreklow, and we got nine and he hurt himself again, stepping on a foot."
With the shortage of bodies, Crabbe took the team onto his shoulders, scoring 10 of the Bears 14 points at one point late in the second half to bring Cal to within five points.
With Smith out, though, Cobbs could not help to shoulder the load and Crabbe began to tire.
"I'm not going to use [being tired] as an excuse," Crabbe said. "Coaches are expecting me to play big minutes in games like this, so I just have to push through it. They just did a good job defensively. I was being a little tentative in the first half. I got to the basket for the second time in the first half, and then I stopped doing it. I've got to be aggressive for all 40 minutes."
Had Smith been available, Montgomery said, it would have given Cal's second scoring option room to work.
"It takes the ball out of Justin's hands a little bit and lets Brandon run the thing a little bit, and it makes us run the break a little more effectively, because it gives Justin the chance to get to the basket off screens, rather than trying to do it at the point of attack," Montgomery said. "It's just really hard right now. We don't have a lot of options."
Cobbs went 6-for-18 from the field on the night, and as Crabbe faded, the Bears could not complete the comeback, as an icy dagger three by Muhammad with 4:03 left in the game put UCLA up by 11 points.
INJURY NOTE: Kreklow's injury, according to Montgomery stems from his offseason foot surgery. It was not a rolled or sprained ankle, but rather pain from a strain on the surgically-repaired foot from stepping on the foot of a UCLA player.