USF showed some early sluggishness Wednesday night after a 5,000-mile flight home last weekend from Belfast, Ireland, but Cal could not take advantage.
The Bears, opening a three-game homestand, lost 79-60 and displayed many of the shortcomings that have consistently afflicted them this early season.
Cal (2-5) struggled on the boards, left 3-point shooters open, and, frankly, did not have enough offense to hang with a team feeling good about itself.
“We got beat by a better team that wanted it more than we did tonight,” Cal coach Wyking Jones said.
USF (8-1) had runs of 13-0 in the first half and 12-0 in the second half, and the rest of the game had very little impact on the outcome.
The Dons, coming off a four-point loss in Ireland to an unbeaten Buffalo team ranked No. 17 in the AP Top-25, overcame the initial affects of traveling home across eight time zones.
“I was terrified, to be honest,” USF coach Kyle Smith admitted. “We got into it and we were pretty good.”
USF hadn’t beaten Cal in Berkeley since Dec. 3, 1991.
The last time the Bears lost to USF by such a big margin was 43 years ago, when a team featuring future pros Bill Cartwright, Winford Boynes and James Hardy beat Cal 93-70. Those Dons began the season 29-0.
This USF team doesn’t compare to that one, but entered Wednesday at No. 27 in the NCAA’s new NET computer rankings. With four minutes left, the Dons were up 28 points.
Cal, four days after absorbing their worst loss to Saint Mary’s in 70 years, gave an announced crowd of 4,039 only brief hope they could spoil the Dons’ trip across the Bay Bridge.
Cal led 8-4 before USF’s 12-0 run morphed into 17-3 and a 21-11 lead. The Bears crept within 21-19 on a 3-pointer by freshman forward Andre Kelly — his first attempt of the season from beyond the arc.
But the USF lead was 34-24 by halftime, and a 12-0 burst pushed the margin out to 46-27 and it was pretty much over with almost 15 minutes left.
Cal, which ranks 349th in rebound margin, lost that battle by a 40-28 margin, and gave up 14 offensive rebounds that led to 18 second-chance points.
“They had more fight,” Jones said. “I saw a hunger in them to go get it.”
The Bears have shot well this season, but converted just 39 percent.
“When you don’t see the ball go through the rim the urgency to make a shot builds,” Jones said. “Our guys started to panic a little bit. That’s when you see silly fouls, that’s when you see guys not box out.”
What Jones was pleased that he didn’t see was anyone going solo.
“Tonight I felt like they tried to continue to play together. You didm’t see a ton of forced shots,” he said. “We just couldn’t find a rhythm offensively.”
Kelly led the Bears with a season-high 17 points to go with nine rebounds. Darius McNeill added 16 points.
USF shot 49 percent from the field and got 3-point baskets from six different players, including Jordan Ratinho, who made four of them. Charles Minlend led the Dons with 17 points and 11 rebounds.