BERKELEY -- In the California basketball team's season opener, the Golden Bears showcased their offensive firepower and athleticism, outgunning Coppin State 83-64.
In Game 2, Cal engaged in a defensive battle against Denver and their slow-paced, pass-heavy Princeton offense. But despite the completely different style of play, the Bears still dominated the Pioneers to the tune of 77-50 in front of the home crowd.
With the pace considerably slowed, Cal relied on its superior size inside to dominate the glass and pick up points in the paint. Behind junior David Kravish's 15 points and senior Richard Solomon's 16 rebounds, the Pioneers were never a threat.
"When David and I get after it, we can both rebound the ball. You saw David, in his freshman year went for 17 rebounds, I went for 16 tonight," Solomon said. "We can both get it going offensively and we both love to block shots. When we get going we can be pretty good. We're long, athletic, we can jump, we like to rebound, and we like to get the ball too. When we're in sync, we're pretty good."
But the story of the game was the physical and disciplined play of the defense. Against Denver's pass-heavy and time-consuming offense, the Bears stayed patient and disciplined -- keeping the undersized Pioneers in front of them while not falling to the gimmicks of off-ball screens and backdoor cuts to the basket.
"I think it has to do with the leadership on the team," Kravish said of the Bears' discipline. "I think it's more grounded, or more solid. Especially after last year, we started out six or seven and zero, thinking we were everything, and then we had a huge lull […] I think that's one thing we really have to focus on is taking one game at a time. No matter what happens in the past, it's in the past. We just have to build on every performance, every game we can. We can't take what we did for granted because the next game is a new challenge and we're not just going to roll over anyone."
Cal was especially effective with their big men early. In the first half, Kravish and Solomon contested 12 shots in the first half, with six of those coming from behind the three-point arc. The size advantage initially forced Denver to play outside, but even with the size advantage inside, Solomon and Kravish did an excellent job closing out on jump shots and making their presence felt even out on the perimeter.
As a result, the Bears held Denver to 3-of -7 on shots within 5 feet in the first half -- impressive given the intent of the Princeton offense, designed to create points off of layups and opportunities closer to the basket. Instead, because of the aforementioned size advantage, the Pioneers attempted thirteen 3-point shots in the first half, while only converting 2 (15%).
The Bears also constantly shifted between man-defense and zone, further altering Denver's offensive plan, possession by possession. All in all, the result was misery in the first half for the Pioneers, as they converted only 5 field goals while committing 9 turnovers.
Denver's Princeton offense controlled the pace, but the Bears controlled the scoreboard at halftime, leading the Pioneers 35-18.
The second half provided more of the same for Cal, as the Bears utilized more zone defense with less experience on the floor – at times playing with five freshmen -- encouraging the Pioneers to continue heaving 3-point shots.
Denver was far more successful in the second half from behind the arc, going 6-of-11. The lack of inside game continued to be the story, as the Bears still outscored Denver 42-32 in the second half. The one real caveat for Cal with the zone was that the Bears managed four more steals in the second half -- two by freshman Sam Singer --leading to 11 points. The bigs were not as involved on defending plays in the second half -- mainly because they did not need to play as much with a comfortable lead.
Still, despite the 32 second-half points, Cal showed that, despite being a mix of veterans and true freshmen, it they can play various styles at various paces, and be a team that should be competitive going forward.
Granted, the Bears have played only Coppin State and Denver, and not Arizona and UCLA. Still, Cal has shown that they have the athleticism, the shooting ability, and the defensive discipline necessary to compete for bigger prizes later in the season.
Against Denver, the Bears played to the Pioneers' slow tempo, and still scored 77 points with dominant play inside. Against what some would call a gimmick offense, the Bears stayed disciplined and rarely made mental errors that one would expect with a group that expects to have three true freshmen play in the rotation.
In Game 3, the Bears host the Oakland Golden Grizzlies -- a team also undersized that figures to try and slow down the tempo when possible. If Cal plays with the same discipline and enthusiasm as they did tonight, the result on the scoreboard should not be too different from what we saw in Games 1 and 2.
ANALYSIS: Discipline, Discipline, Discipline
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