It was never going to be easy winning at Boulder, but the California Golden Bears hit just four of their first 24 shots, shot 20% in the first half, and still managed to stay close to the Colorado Buffaloes before sustaining an 81-71 loss.
Which means they might have been able to win the game.
Especially since the Buffs were without the nation's top rebounder, Andre Roberson, for the final 18 minutes of the first half after he picked up two quick fouls.
All that did was even the playing field, though, as David Kravish picked up early fouls, too, and also showed the effects of the ankle he rolled against Utah. Kravish, whose availability was a game-time decision, had virtually no lateral movement on defense, although he gave a game effort for the 19 minutes he was able to play.
Roberson finished with five rebounds and 15 points in 19 minutes of play, while Kravish, the Bears' leading rebounder, finished with six points and one rebound.
Cal's dynamic duo of Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs finished the game with 43 points, but virtually all of it came after halftime. The Bears were held to their lowest-scoring half of the season before the intermission, when they trailed 34-18. Crabbe had just four points at the break, and the Bears were 7-for-35 from the field.
Colorado, on the other hand, was riding the solid defense of Spencer Dinwiddie, who kept Crabbe in check before halftime, and the balanced play of freshman Xavier Johnson, who came into play averaging 7.5 PPG and 3.6 rebounds, but contributed career highs of 18 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
Cal had no answers in the first half. They shot miserably, defended miserably, rebounded miserably, while Colorado shot 50%. Their frustration was exemplified in a sequence where they secured one of the Buffs 20 turnovers, Tyrone Wallace passed to Justin Cobbs ahead of all defenders, and Cobbs missed an uncontested dunk. The Buffaloes grabbed the rebound, came down the floor and hit the bucket just before the half.
Yet, the game seemed available when the Bears put up seven straight points in 45 seconds at the start of the second half, getting the deficit to single-digits.
Then Colorado began to shoot the basketball. At the same hoop that Cal could not seem to find an opening in the first half, Colorado hit 11 of their first 15 shots from the field, en route to a 15-for-21 half, and added insult to injury by hitting all 13 foul shots they took at that end.
Brandon Smith had a confounding line. He was able to play 14 minutes and was 1-of-2 from the floor, with just one assist, three steals, and a deadly five turnovers. His presence was anything but steadying, likely a result of the combination of recovery from the concussion symptoms and having to play over a mile above sea level. Crabbe showed some effects of altitude, also, as even though he scored 17 points after the break, as the game wound down he was very short on some open shots, and looked like he just didn't have any legs left.
As well as the Bears' played in the second half, scoring 53 points and shooting 62.1%, Colorado bested them by shooting 71.4% after the break.
The Bears' bright spot off the bench was Robert Thurman, who played 26 minutes filling in for Kravish, and was 4-for-5 with 8 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Cal has now lost the last six times they have played at Colorado, and trail the all-time series 10-11. The Buffaloes used amazing shooting, 59.6% overall on 28-for-47, and a 13-point edge at the stripe, to snatch a 10-point win.
With just a bit more health, and even shooting just 25% in the first half, the Bears might have won this game, but instead come home from the Rockies trip below .500 in the conference at 3-4, facing the Oregon schools next week at Haas.†