BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — With leading scorer Bryce Aiken in a walking boot and the offense sputtering most of the way, Harvard once again leaned heavily on its defense to keep its longest winning streak of the season going.
Chris Lewis had 19 points and a career-high four blocked shots, and Harvard beat California 71-63 on Sunday.
Christian Juzang added 14 points including five free throws in the final four minutes to help the Crimson (9-4) to their fourth consecutive win and second straight over California.
“Our defense is our calling card for our program,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We’ve built our program around our defense. I would love for us to be able to do that on one end and be a little more efficient on the other end. That’s the goal. But certainly pleased with the team defensive effort that we gave.”
Lewis made all seven of his shots and had an emphatic two-handed dunk late in the second half while anchoring Harvard’s offense, but it was the Crimson’s defense that made the difference for Amaker’s team. Harvard set a season-high with 11 blocks and held California to 35 % shooting.
“That’s something that we definitely pride ourselves on is getting defensive stops,” Juzang said. “With Chris Lewis and having Rob Baker, all these guys that can pin it off the backboard if you do get beat, we take a lot of pride in helping and recovering and making those rotations. Everyone feeds off that energy and protection we have at the rim.”
Aiken sat out a second straight game with a left foot injury he suffered Dec. 21 against George Washington. Aiken, who who was limited to 18 games last season because of injuries, has also been bothered by knee and calf issues throughout the year.
“I’m waiting for the trainers and doctors to tell me,” Amaker said of Aiken’s status.
Matt Bradley scored 15 points on 4-of-14 shooting for the Golden Bears. California (6-7) has lost three straight and five of six.
“We’re not that far away but we’re a long way away from the level of consistency that is needed,” Bears coach Mark Fox said. “There’s a lot of instinctive plays on the defensive end that we do not make, and we probably won't make until we go through it and get some experience.”
Lewis had six points in the first seven minutes to get Harvard out to an early lead. Robert Baker and Justin Bassey added 3-pointers, and Mason Forbes added a pair of free throws to put the Crimson ahead 31-18.
Harvard: The Crimson have spent much of the season on the road and have won their last three away from home. It wasn’t always pretty offensively as the team struggled to get much going when Lewis wasn’t scoring. But Harvard repeatedly got to loose balls, tipped passes and prevented California from getting much going.
California: The Bears ended their nonconference schedule with another loss, their second straight at home following a 6-0 start at Haas Pavilion. Instead of heading into Pac-12 play with some momentum, California goes in with plenty of questions left unanswered. The Bears desperately need to find another scorer to help Bradley, who tends to rush his shots when Cal is trailing.
Harvard: The Crimson stay in Nothern California and play at San Francisco on Monday. The Crimson are winless in three previous games against the Dons.
California: The Golden Bears begin their Pac-12 schedule at Stanford on Thursday. The Bears have won their last two games at Maples Pavilion.
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