By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com
The Wyking Jones era of Cal basketball kicked off late Friday night in Berkeley, with the Bears turning in a dismal effort resulting in a 74-66 loss to the UC Riverside Highlanders. A game that was originally booked on the schedule as a gimmie win for the Bears turned into a disheartening loss at that hands of team picked in the preseason to finish toward the bottom of the Big West Conference. Riverside, who went 8-21 last season, were flat-out better than Cal for all 40 minutes as they showed little problem penetrating the Bears' zone defense or breaking through their trapping press. Riverside was up 17-3 to start the game and more or less cruised the rest of the way.
With a new head coach and a staggering nine players new to their roster, Cal fans certainly expected a rebuilding year. But with 6'11" senior Marcus Lee moving back home to the Bay Area from his Final Four days in Kentucky and Kingsley Okoroh manning the middle, it made sense to believe Cal could hold its own in the Pac-12 this year. However, Friday night left Cal fans rethinking the idea of a competitive season altogehter.
The Bears finished sixth in the Pac-12 a year ago, behind home-grown Bay Area draft picks in Ivan Rabb and Jabari Bird, along with shifty point guard Charlie Moore who has since left for greener pastures in Kansas. Cal's hot young coach in Cuonzo Martin also bolted for the Big-12, landing a larger contract at Missouri with half the cost of living, effectively leaving the cupboard as bare as it's been in recent memory in Berkeley.
It certainly felt that way at the home opener inside Haas Pavilion as more than half the gym was left empty throughout the ugly loss. Bear fans that showed up were let down by Lee's debut in the blue and gold, as he failed to score a point in the first half. Lee, who played 100 games for John Calipari at Kentucky, looked overly reliant on his teammates to create consistent scoring opportunities for himself. To his credit, Lee did grab 10 rebounds, but that might have been his only bright spot as he ended with just eight points while shooting just 40% from the charity stripe. Returning starter Okoroh fared even worse against Riverside's defense, tallying just five points on the evening while going 3of7 at the line.
The only bright spot on the night came from junior wing Don Coleman, who took the offense load upon himself, pouring in a career high 32 points in the losing effort. Even so, Coleman left much to be desired when you consider he attempted 28 shots and missed eight free throws on the night. His inefficient output still leaves fans wondering, who will consistently score the basketball for the Bears this year? It's not an easy question to answer, even after Coleman's career high night from the field.
This time last year in Berkeley, the Bears were riding a home winning streak that would eventually reach 27 straight games. They had a proven head coach who had won at other schools. They had NBA prospects and solid shooters scattered up and down their lineup. Suddenly, those days are over and left to be rebuilt, hopefully sooner than later. By Sunday, Cal hopes to get their act together to avoid a loss to Cal Poly on Sunday at 1pm in Berkeley. A home sweep at the hands of two mediocre Big West schools would be hard for the most casual of Cal fans to swallow.