ANALYSIS: Defense, Bears, Defense
BERKELEY -- The California Golden Bears are among the hottest teams in the country, relying on suffocating defensive efforts to win six straight and eight of nine coming into Saturday. That trend continued on Saturday, as the Bears continued their journey from underachiever to postseason contender, with most projections expecting California to make the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time under head coach Mike Montgomery.
The Bears would keep rolling on Saturday as they used pressure to force turnovers and poor shots by Colorado en route to a 62-46 drubbing. That pressure, in turn, led to fast-break baskets and, ultimately, Cal pulling away late in front of a raucous home crowd at Haas Pavilion. That defensive intensity was key on a night when the Bears' top two scorers -- juniors Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs -- struggled their way to a combined 9-for-25 afternoon shooting.
Coming into Saturday, four of Colorado's top five scorers -- Xavier Johnson, Josh Scott, Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie -- combined to shoot 45% from the floor and average about 50.6 points per game. On Saturday, Cal made those four miserable, as they combined to shoot 10-for-50 (20%) and combine for only 33 points. That played a major role in holding Colorado to only 46 points -- a season low. All that can be credited to California's continued efforts on the defensive end, which stymied the Buffaloes repeatedly.
"I think defensively, it probably was," said head coach Mike Montgomery. "I thought defensively we were very good. Priority one was recovery ... not let them get points on the run which they do well and they only had two, so that was huge. Second priority was second chance points. They didn't get much there (2).
"Third thing was point of attack. We forced them to shoot it better from three than they did from two. I think that what became apparent after the game started was that it was going to be physical. The officials were not going to call very much. That's become the want for what is going on in the league. Our guys adjusted well to that."
Cal's efforts on Dinwiddie were particularly impressive. Colorado's leading scorer has had a tendency to attack the basket and get points from the foul line. However, California did a fantastic job of keeping Dinwiddie out of the paint, even when the smaller Cobbs was forced to guard him. For the game, Dinwiddie was 2-for-15 from the field, scoring 9 points -- only his fourth single-digit output of the season. Of his 15 shots, only 4 took place inside the key: where he only went 1-for-4. Of his other shots, 4 took place on the baseline (0-for-4), 2 took place from midrange (0-2, including 1 blocked), and 5 came from beyond the three-point line (1-for-5). Cal's defense frustrated him so much, that his shot selection got even worse in the second half in an effort to try and draw fouls, which the refs did not call. Dinwiddie's struggles meant even more woes for Colorado, as his 13% shooting was his second-lowest shooting performance of the season.
Johnson's 4-for-14 outing tied for his second-worst shooting performance from the floor this season, and his 10 missed field goal attempts were a season high. Johnson shot well from behind the three-point line (3-for-4), but was only 1-for-10 from inside the arc. Like Dinwiddie, Johnson went 1-for-6 from inside the paint. Scott's struggles were similar, going 1-for-6 from inside 7 feet.
All this stems primarily great individual and help defense down low. Normally, you would credit big men David Kravish, Richard Solomon and Robert Thurman for their efforts, and they were immovable inside. But the team help-side defense on drives cannot be ignored. Against Colorado, California's big men had 5 blocked shots and 19 rebounds. But in addition, Crabbe had 2 more blocks and 7 boards, and Tyrone Wallace grabbed 11 rebounds -- a career high. All in all, the team's defensive effort inside the key not only stymied Colorado's primary scorers, but held the Buffaloes to only 6-for-24 shooting inside the key and a grand total of 12 points in the paint. On the flip side, Cal was 22-for-38 inside the key, for 44 points inside the paint.
The Bears' dominance inside further resulted in Colorado shooting more shots from the perimeter. All in all, they were a disappointing 6-for-21 from the 3-point line (28.6%). Cal, meanwhile, had no reason to shoot 3-point shots, as they only attempted 6 for the entire game.
All in all, the Bears team dominance inside against the Buffaloes resulted in huge discrepancies in points in the paint and field goal percentage. Colorado's four primary scorers all struggled to get good shots close to the basket. The result? California's seventh straight win, a stronger hold on a bid for the NCAA Tournament, and a pleased Mike Montgomery.
"Any time we [hold] a team like Colorado to 23% [field goal percentage], you have to be pretty pleased," he said.
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