BERKELEY -- Perhaps younger than any team he's coached at California, Mike Montgomery's Bears sure didn't look inexperienced – with the lack of discipline that comes with youth – against Denver on Tuesday, easily closing out the Pioneers, 77-50 in front of 4,930 at Haas Pavilion.
Against the Princeton offense, Cal kept the middle a mystery to undersized Denver (with a 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-8 frontcourt), while closing the backdoor cuts and having big men like David Kravish close out on threes.
"I worried, we worried about the back cuts, the back cuts, the back cuts, they set you up, they back cut, they get lay-ups," said Montgomery. "We tried to not let them back cut. We tried to make them come to the DHOs [dribble handoffs]. I really thought, one, that [guard Brett] Olsen's a good shooter, and Justin [Cobbs] wanted the challenge of guarding him, and I thought he did a really good job. The main thing you have to do against Denver is maintain your concentration, because they kind of lull you to sleep. They cut, they cut, they cut and the next thing you know, the guy starts the same place he just did the last time, and you start to go and he back cuts and there's a bounce pass. I thought Justin did a really good job of keeping him from getting those. For that matter, we generally did a good job. I thought a couple guys got burned once or twice on back cuts, but generally speaking, did not, so forced him around the perimeter all the time. We had pretty good defensive intensity across the board."
The defensive star of the day for the Bears was Richard Solomon, who had 10 rebounds even before halftime, and finished with a career-high 16 boards (14 on defense), to go along with nine points, one assist and two blocks, including one that sailed over the head of commentator Roxy Bernstein.
"I was just putting myself in position to get the rebound […] just holding off my man, and just going up, jumping up and getting as high as I can, and they just kept coming at me," Solomon said. "It's kinda easy when they just fall into your hands."
Kravish scored 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting, with three rebounds.
"When David and I get after it, we can both rebound the ball," Solomon said. "You saw David in his freshman year went for 17 rebounds, I went for 16 tonight. 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.
Both Solomon and Kravish kept the glass and the paint clean, as the Pioneers scored just 16 points from inside the key (Cal scored 52) and pulled down three offensive rebounds, while the Bears pulled down 28 on the defensive glass. Cal out-rebounded Denver, 40-20.
"Richard was a beast on the boards," Montgomery said. "He really was. Mostly defensive glass, but some offense. They play a switching man-to-man, essentially, and if you stand, they'll match up. What we tried to do was force a guard to switch on a big, and then come back at him, and did a good job. David was the recipient of that, in the first half, I thought, fairly consistently. David had a smaller player, we were able to drop it to him. The other thing is, I think we did a pretty good job at point of attack, with creating foul situations. 25 foul shots, which is good, and only took seven three's. We didn't fall prey to just trying to shoot it the first time. We took it at the basket and did a pretty good job that way, so I thought that was good."
In the first half, the Pioneers started 1-for-12 from the three-point line, before finishing 2-for-13, and shot just 5-of-24 overall as the Bears (2-0) opened up a 35-18 lead, fueled by a 4-for-4 start from Kravish, as Cal scored 20 of its first 24 points from the paint, and Kravish scored nine of the Bears' first 11.
"They were just giving me the ball," Kravish said. "Denver's not as big, and we talked about focusing on getting ball inside a little bit after the last game. We took advantage of them switching, and they were just giving me the ball."
The margin could have been larger, had Cal not struggled at the free-throw line, going 8-of-13 from the charity stripe. Last week, the Bears went a grizzly 10-for-20 from the line, but they finished 19-for-25 against the Pioneers.
Five-star freshman Jabari Bird got the first start of his college career, but wasn't much of a factor in 24 minutes, going 0-for-2 in the first half on a three-pointer and an ill-advised and forced pull-up jumper in traffic at the top of the key. He finished 3-for-8 from the floor, with three rebounds and a steal.
"Jabari is obviously very capable," Montgomery said. "He's going to be really good. He was probably a little bit nervous. He wants to be good. You just have to keep working. He'll be fine when he gets his feet under him and more comfortable with the offense and more comfortable with where his shots are going to come from. I would like to see him rebound the ball more [in order to get] that nervousness out of your system. For all of these young players; they're going to need to get game experience and figure out how to be most effective."
In fact, Denver's Marcus Byrd had more points (8) than Bird (2) midway through the second half. Byrd finished 4-of-9 from the field and had 10 points on the night, as one of two Pioneers in double digits. Guard Cam Griffin had 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting, but exited the game soon after collecting his fourth foul with 14:23 left.
After hitting just five field goals in the entirety of the first half, the Pioneers started the second stanza with three buckets, and came within 14 points with 10:41 left in the game thanks to a three-pointer by Byrd, but they would get no closer, as the Bears opened up on a 22-15 sprint.
"For one little stretch, I thought we got a little complacent or tired or whatever," Montgomery said. "They looked like, all of the sudden, they were going to get more shots. At the start of the second half, they came out with a little more clearer idea, but I thought, in general, we did a good job of taking them out of what they wanted to do. Olsen, I was a little surprised he didn't look to score a little bit more, and I was a little surprised Udofia didn't look to score a little bit more and be more aggressive at the point of attack than he was."
Olsen finished the night 2-for-7 from the field for eight points, with five rebounds, three assists and three turnovers. Udofia led all comers with five blocks, and shot 3-for-4 from the field for a total of eight points, but he had four turnovers to three assists.
The final minutes were not without incident, though, as point guard Justin Cobbs went up to block a shot with 8:27 left after Kravish had taken a spill on defense, only to come down hard on his left knee.
"You hate to see a teammate go down," Solomon said of Cobbs. "He should be back on the court tomorrow."
"He looked OK. I looked at the knee, and it was still there," Montgomery said. "He came down awkwardly, and it hurt."
The Cal head coach said that his point guard should be able to play on Friday.
He left the floor for just over two minutes of game time, but came back out with his knee iced to sit on the bench. In his place, Tyrone Wallace slid over to the one, before freshman Sam Singer came in to run the point for the rest of the game.
Singer finished with eight points, going 2-of-2 from beyond the three-point arc for Cal's only two three-pointers of the night, and going 2-for-2 from the free-throw line. Singer also had two of the Bears' nine steals.
"I like Sam. We can move Ty to the one. Obviously, the one is a tough position to play," Montgomery said. "If I have him in, who do I have at the two? Maybe I'll have Justin in at the two for example and have him in more scoring situations. Sam shot the ball well. He's a good shooter. He's going to gain confidence as we good along. We like Sam. We like all of our freshmen. It's a situational thing. We also have some veterans that won some games for us and we need to be mindful of that."
Solomon Pulls Down Career-High 16 Boards
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