This wasn’t Cal’s worst-ever defeat to Saint Mary’s College.
That was a 31-13 loss way back in 1917-18, matched by 60-42 defeat in 1948-49.
But since then — 70 years ago — the Bears hadn’t sustained such a one-sided loss to the Gaels as their 84-71 defeat on Saturday night at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga.
And this one wasn’t as close as the final score. Not nearly so. Saint Mary’s, just 3-4 entering the game and riding a four-game losing streak that was the program’s longest in 12 years, led by 25 points in the second half.
Asked if there was anything about the game that pleased him, Cal coach Wyking Jones said bluntly, “Not really. I feel like we took a step back. The next game we’ve got to take a step forward.”
The Bears (2-4) play their third straight West Coast Conference team on Wednesday at home when USF (7-1) pays a visit.
Cal led 14-12 when the Gaels used the 3-point shot to assemble a 19-4 run that gave them permanent control of the game. Tanner Krebs came off the bench to nail a trio of 3-pointers while Tommy Kuhse and Dan Fotu each hit one during the outburst that consumed barely 4 1/2 minutes.
By halftime, Saint Mary’s was up 45-30 and a 12-2 burst by the Gaels to open the second half made it 57-32 with 15:38 left.
Welcome to garbage time.
Jones said the Bears made an effort to focus on the Gaels’ two top scorers, Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts, but Saint Mary’s got contributions from throughout their lineup to exploit the Bears.
Although the teams have met 80 times since 1914, Cal had not visited Moraga since 1988. When the Bears lost that one, then-coach Lou Campanelli promptly ended the practice of routinely playing their East Bay neighbors.
“I can see why now,” Jones said.
Sant Mary’s coach Randy Bennett hopes the series continues, with occasional visits by the Bears.
“Whether it’s there or whether it’s here, I think it’s great for college basketball in the Bay,” Bennett said. “I appreciate Wyking playing us here; it’s the first time in 30 years. I think we need to try to try to figure out ways to do that.”
Cal shot 12-for-12 from the free throw line, marking just the fourth time in school history the Bears have attempted at least 10 foul shots and made them all. They also converted a solid 7-for-15 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Justice Sueing led the Bears with 16 points and freshman Matt Bradley scored 15.
Bennett, who lost three all-conference players from last year’s 30-win team, said the Bears remind him of his own squad at this point.
“I think Cal is pretty good. I think they have good young personnel. I think they’ll be good,” Bennett said. “They’re in the same deal we are. These guys have got to mature; same with ours.”
But the Bears have ongoing issues that surfaced in this one:
— They engaged in far too much one-on-one basketball, as evidenced by their meager total of six assists. The Bears entered the game ranked 339th nationally in assists per game. Saint Mary’s, by comparison, had 19 assists.
“That’s a problem and we have to fix that. We will fix that. Moving forward that won’t be a problem,” Jones said. Right now, too many guys going one on one, too many guys trying to take people off the bounce and do it themselves and play hero ball. We shoot the ball too well to not drive and kick out to shooters.”
— Cal struggled to maintain concentration defensively, leaving the Gaels open from the 3-point arc. Saint Mary’s was 13-for-25 from deep.
“Early on we were playing pretty well, then we had little lapses on defense and they went on a run,” Sueing said. “We weren't communicating enough on defense. That’s something we have to work on these next couple days.”
— Without great size, Cal is going to be vulnerable defensively and on the boards against certain opponents. The Gaels out rebounded them 30-24. USF will present a bit more size, so the Bears will need to combat that.
— The Bears’ five starters entered the game averaging double-digit scoring, but their bench hasn’t contributed much. Cal’s reserves were outscored 33-10 by their SMC counterparts.