Cal teased its fans against Arizona State in its Pac-12 home opener Wednesday night.
The Bears led 25-11 with 6 1/2 minutes left in the first half and the announced crowd of 5,827 at Haas Pavilion began to develop hope.
ASU stopped missing and/or Cal’s defense reverted to form, and the Sun Devils chipped away before pocketing an 80-66 victory.
“Very difficult, disappointing loss,” said visibly shaken Cal coach Wyking Jones. “Obviously, we came out of the gates and did a good job and built a comfortable lead. It shifted at the end of the first half when we let them make the run.”
This was a chance to beat a team with a winning record -- a team that beat Kansas -- and the Bears (5-10, 0-3 Pac-12) wasted it.
They held the Sun Devils (11-4, 2-1) to four points through nine minutes to start the game, and still gave up 80 points for the sixth straight game.
After allowing 86 points in the paint in losses at USC and UCLA, the Bears held the Sun Devils to one interior basket to that point through the first 14 minutes. By the finish, ASU had 34 points in the paint.
They led by 14 in the first half, then lost by 14. Over the final 26-plus minutes, Cal was outscored 69-41.
ASU point guard Remy Martin changed everything. He entered the game having made 8 of 41 shots from the 3-point arc, encouraging the Bears to pack in their zone defense and dare him to shoot from the perimeter.
Martin did not cooperate with the Cal plan. He was 5 for 7 on 3’s, scored a career-high 24 points and whisked a series of passes to ASU’s front court players, contributing eight assists to the Sun Devils’ assault on the paint.
Even ASU coach Bobby Hurley, who lost to Jason Kidd and the Bears while playing for Duke in the 1993 NCAA tournament, wouldn’t take credit for winning this one.
“We were kind of flat and we didn’t have the right spirit and energy,” Hurley said. “Our offense, there was no great movement to it. We needed a spark. I don’t think it was me. I think it was more of Remy.”
Jones acknowledged Martin’s play changed the game’s dynamic.
“When Remy Martin started hitting shots you can’t keep the zone as tight,” Jones said. “He played a great game. He went into the game shooting 19 percent (on 3’s) and he goes 5 for 7. You play the statistics and you say, `OK, let that guy shoot.’ And he made us pay.”
The Bears clearly missed junior point guard Paris Austin, sidelined for the second straight game with a sprained ankle. Matt Bradley and Darius McNeill shared the assignment again, contributing 19 and 16 points, respectively. Bradley, whose point total was a career-high, also had six turnovers.
Jones said the difference was obvious.
“We need our point guard back. Matt Bradley has given us everything he has. Darius has, too. But those guys aren’t point guards,” Jones said.
And the decisive drought came midway through the second half.
The Bears were outscored 18-5 over 9 minutes, missing eight straight field-goal attempts and scoring all their points from the free throw line. In a span of 13 possessions, they went from leading 39-37 to trailing 55-44 with 9:20 left.
“They fed off of us not being able to score,” Jones said. “Their offense got ramped up when they were able to get stops. We just don’t have the same flow offensively as when we have Paris.”
Jones said he expects Austin to be healthy enough to play Saturday night when Arizona visits.
The Bears led 35-33 at halftime after giving away most of a 14-point lead over the final 6 1/2 minutes of the period. Then ASU took over.
“We knew they were going to be a tough, physical team. They didn’t look like it in the first half,” Jones said. “In the second half they showed they were more physical, and played tougher than we did tonight.”
ASU wound up shooting 48 percent after opening 1 for 12 from the field. Thanks to their ability to attack the spread-out Cal defense, the Sun Devils converted 58 percent in the second half.
Cal shot 39 percent for the game.