BERKELEY, Calif. | Back-to-back losses against unranked teams have Colorado coach Tad Boyle questioning his team’s confidence as much as its defense.
First-year California coach Mark Fox, on the other hand, is celebrating a signature win that he called the Golden Bears’ best of the season.
Matt Bradley matched his career highs of 26 points and five 3-pointers, and California pulled away in the second half to beat No. 21 Colorado 76-62 on Thursday night.
“Our defense has left us,” Boyle said. “We let them make nine 3s. They’re not a great 3-point shooting team but they are against us because we let them. Our defense does nothing to dictate the tempo of the game, does nothing to make them feel uncomfortable.”
Boyle had similar issues with the Buffaloes after a loss to UCLA last week that dropped Colorado three spots in the rankings.
They had a chance to turn things around against California but fell behind by double digits in the first half and never recovered.
Now those hopes of a Pac-12 championship, which seemed so strong a week ago, are razor thin.
“We’re not panicking at all. It hurts right now but we’re going to move on,” McKinley Wright IV said. “I still think we’re one of the most-feared teams in the Pac-12, regardless of tonight’s loss and the last loss against UCLA.”
Kareem South had 19 points and Paris Austin added 12 as the Golden Bears (12-16, 6-9 Pac-12) emphatically ended a five-game losing streak against the Buffaloes and gave Fox his most significant win of the season while handing Colorado a stinging setback.
“(Colorado) brought the best out in us, for sure, tonight,” Fox said. “They’re so sound, they’re so good on both ends of the court. That’s the best that we’ve played. I’m really proud of our team.”
Wright scored 18 points and Tyler Bey had 13 for Colorado.
The Buffaloes (21-8, 10-6) were among a handful of teams who began the night a half-game behind conference-leading Arizona State. The Sun Devils played at UCLA later Thursday.
Boyle acknowledged that Colorado’s confidence has been shaken.
“Our players need to believe in themselves as much as they believe in McKinley Wright,” Boyle said. “If every guy in that locker room would believe in themselves like they believe in him, they wouldn’t lose that confidence.”
Cal’s win came nearly a year to the day after its previous one over a Top 25 team, a 76-73 victory against No. 25 Washington on Feb. 25, 2019.
The Bears led nearly the entire game and pulled away after the Buffaloes scored the first two buckets of the second half.
Bradley, who appeared to hurt his elbow shortly after the break, spearheaded the surge in nearly every way. He made a shot just inside the 3-point line, then later had a 16-foot fadeaway. Bradley added a 3-pointer, then stole the ball from Evan Battey and sparked a fast break ending in a 3 by Austin that made it 56-40.
Colorado, coming off a 70-63 loss to UCLA, got within 12 with 3 1/2 minutes remaining before Austin scored on a reverse for California.
Colorado trailed until Siewert made back-to-back 3s midway through the first half. Bradley followed with consecutive 3s for Cal, including one that ended in a four-point play after he was fouled by Bey.
Colorado: The loss to UCLA last week dropped Boyle’s team three spots in the AP Top 25. This one will almost surely knock the Buffaloes out of the rankings altogether and very well could end any hopes they had of winning the conference title. Colorado had followed its five previous losses with wins but now has back-to-back defeats for the first time since early December.
California: The Bears missed six of their first seven shots to open the second half, then took off and never looked back. Bradley’s big game was huge, but South’s production might have been more pivotal as he kept Colorado’s defense on its heels and took some of the scoring pressure off Bradley.
FORMER BEAR HONORED
Former Cal star Shareef Abdur-Rahim was given the Pete Newell Career Achievement award during a brief halftime ceremony. The third overall pick in the 1996 draft after winning conference player of the year honors during his one season with the Bears, Abdur-Rahim played 12 seasons in the NBA and currently works as the G League president.
Colorado: Plays at Stanford on Sunday.
California: Hosts Utah on Saturday in the final home game of the season at Haas Pavilion.