One thing was clear on Saturday's game against the Bruins, the Cal Golden Bears are the better team:
UCLA is clearly a notch below California. The Golden Bears are the only conference team that has easily dispatched UCLA and they have now done it twice this season. The Bruins have been within single digits in each of their other four conference losses and could easily be in the mix for the regular-season conference title, but they trailed Cal by as many as 24 in their 85-69 loss on Dec. 31 and were down by 17 in the second half Saturday.
The Bruins are eying the Pac-12 tournament as their best shot at an NCAA tournament berth, but they are more than likely headed toward the NIT, especially if they run into the Golden Bears at Staples Center in March.
The game was eerily similar to the first game. A reasonably close game until Cal went on a big second half run to destroy the Bruins. A slight difference is this time the Bruins made a run.
Just like in their first meeting, when Cal blasted UCLA, 85-69, the Golden Bears took control with a second-half surge. UCLA trailed, 32-26, at halftime Saturday, but the Bruins got only one defensive stop on Cal's first 12 possessions of the second half and had a 56-39 lead with 13:24 to play.
That run seemed to suck all the life out of the Bruins, who seemed resigned to defeat over the next five minutes as Cal maintained its lead. Coach Ben Howland wouldn't have any of it. During a timeout, he chastised the team for giving up and implored them to keep fighting.
The Bruins responded, cutting the Cal lead to 66-59 with 3:15 to play, but could not get any closer.
"I was kind of disappointed the way were kind of hanging our head when we had the big deficit and I really got on them and we really fought back at that point," Howland said. "You never hang your head, you never quit, you never give up, you keep fighting always. Hopefully that's a lesson learned from today. You can't ever display that."
UCLA STAR OF THE GAME:Jerime Anderson scored 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting for the Bruins, who shot only 39.7 percent for the game. Anderson's 3-pointer just before halftime helped UCLA stay close at 32-26 when it looked as if Cal might take a double-digit halftime lead.
Anderson also brought the Bruins back from oblivion when he scored nine points during a 12-2 run that closed a 64-47 deficit to 66-59 with 3:13 to play. Anderson's 3-pointer ended that run.
But Anderson has limitations. Anderson is good at taking what is given him. Anderson is not good at doing too much which he tried to do effectively ending the run:
This time around, the Bruins showed a little moxie in clawing their way back. After falling behind by as many as 17 points midway through the half, UCLA went on a run to make it a seven-point game with 3:15 left.
But just as the Bruins had to hurry to catch up, it was that speed that cut their comeback short. Anderson had two crucial turnovers down the stretch and Cal responded to every one of UCLA's late charges.
The Bears were patient and efficient, shooting 51.9 percent from the field to sweep the Bruins in the regular season for the first time since 1993-94. Justin Cobbs scored 18 points, Allen Crabbe 14 and Jorge Gutierrez 13.
The numbers on the other side were equally telling. UCLA shot 39.7 percent and had a season-low seven assists, none in the first half.
"We had bunch of open jump shots that we missed," Coach Ben Howland said. "We had had some inside shots, layups, that we missed. The first half, both their big guys were in foul trouble. They were playing two backups and we couldn't exploit that."
Cal defense seemed geared to let the Wears shoot and a lot of those missed shots were by the Wears. It worked.
"It was just a tough night," said Wear, who had 10 points but made only 4 of 13 shots.
"I missed some chippie shots around the hoop. Those are shots we normally make and should make by being aggressive, not worrying about contact but going up there and finishing."
And as Howland said:
Ben Howland pointed out that Cal's Harper Kamp held such diligent position that David Wear got only one rebound for UCLA.
Anthony Stover was hurt and CBH asked Smith to step up and play a season high in minutes. Cal did a good job double teaming him and limiting him. Smith was candid in his problems not just this game but for the season:
He's sorry he hasn't cared more about his weight. He's sorry he hasn't worked harder on his stamina. He's sorry that basketball hasn't been important enough to him to make it a priority. He knows now how his lifestyle can affect not just his future, but the future of a basketball team that this season has been crushed by his girth.
"My whole career, I've never been in great shape," says the sophomore, shaking his head, looking down at his 6-foot-10, 300-plus-pound frame. "I can only imagine what would happen if I was."
. . . Smith is such a presence in the middle, the Golden Bears constantly double-team him. But he manages only seven shots because he is often too winded to get down the court with everyone else, sometimes not even making it to the three-point line.
"He was tired and he was spent," Howland says.
Now the Bruins chances of winning the Pac-12 regular season are officially spent. Cal is the more talented, better coached, and just better team.