Youthful Bears Are Running In Place





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For one of the loudest arenas in the country, Haas Pavilion was eerily silent in the aftermath of Cal's last-second loss to Washington Saturday afternoon.

After cheering their team to near victory for 39 minutes and 50 seconds, the 11,286 fans in attendance witnessed one of the most deflating losses in recent memory.

The Bears dropped a must-win conference game, 54-52, when Huskies guard Senque Carey hoisted up a buzzer-beating three-pointer. The win stunted any momentum gained by Thursday's slaughter of Washington State.

More importantly, it showed the team and its faithful followers that youthful exuberance can be a blessing, but it can also accelerate Cal's demise.

"The big question right now is whether this young team can play back-to-back games," Bears coach Ben Braun said. "The answer today was no."

Cal was seconds away from icing its third league win when freshman Donte Smith was fouled with just under eight seconds remaining in the contest. But a missed free throw, coupled with Carey's last-second heroics, conspired to keep the Bears from grabbing their first weekend sweep of the Pac-10 season.

"I don't remember (a loss) that's been more frustrating," Braun observed in the aftermath of the devastating result. "There were just countless ways we handed this game over."

Braun was quick to point out that it was far too early to discuss the postseason implications of Saturday's loss. After all, Cal hasn't even reached the halfway point on its conference docket.

Nevertheless, the last-second loss is certain to bruise the fragile egos of an extremely youthful squad. Any confidence the Bears gained from Thursday night's annihilation of the Cougars was just as quickly taken away by Carey's picture-perfect jumpshot.

And so it goes that, like so many young teams, Cal took one giant step forward Thursday, only to be jolted back to reality by a desperate Huskies ball club on Saturday.

"This weekend we needed two victories," forward Sean Lampley said. "This puts us back a step."

v The loss might have been more digestible for the Bears, if not for the fact that they authored their own demise.

Cal shot just 43 percent from the free throw line and made just two of eight attempts in the second half. As if that dreadful statistic weren't enough, the Bears also hampered their cause by losing a number of loose balls to a hard-working Washington team.

"You can't give up opportunities at the free throw line," Braun asserted. "(But) rebounds and loose balls hurt us equally, maybe more."

Cal owned its defensive boards in the first stanza, permitting the Huskies just one offensive rebound. But in the second half -when securing the glass is exponentially more important - the Bears allowed Washington to grab nine offensive rebounds. Those miscues accounted for countless opportunities for the Huskies.

"The thing we can't accept is the hustle plays," Braun said. "We've got to go out there and secure the ball. Those are little things you have a chance to control and we didn't, and it cost us the game."

The Bears handed a "W" to a struggling Washington team that was ecstatic to take advantage of the opportunity. The Huskies had lost six conference games in a row after beating UCLA in their Pac-10 opener. Two of those losses were overtime defeats against conference powers USC and Oregon. But in its last two games, Washington had been embarrassed by Oregon State and Stanford.

Not only were they prepared to go to the wire to beat the Bears, the Huskies were also undaunted by their atrocious 15-point first half output.

"Our team is never going to give up," Carey explained. "You can't lose a game in the first half."

Unfortunately for Cal, you can't win games in the first half either.

It takes 40 minutes of hard work and hustle to grab a victory in the Pac-10. It takes more than 25 percent shooting from the charity stripe in the second stanza to win.

This is a lesson that the Bears must learn if they hope to string together multiple wins. If not, Cal will continue to run in place - taking one step back for every one forward.

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