BERKELEY -- Yes, that was the same UC Irvine that beat Washington, 86-72, but the Anteaters were a completely different bunch against California on Monday night in Berkeley, shooting a woeful 29.4% from the field (20.6% in the first half), with 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye playing an infinitesimal role as the Bears put a 73-56 hurting on their fellow UC.
After a four-point first half, junior forward David Kravish exploded for 15 points in the second, at one point accounting for 10 of 12 Cal points and five straight Bears field goals. The 6-foot-9 big man finished 9-for-15, with two assists and 10 rebounds, matching his career-high 19 points with a made free throw with under four minutes remaining. He has now scored 65 points in the last four games.
Kravish came alive in the mid-range game after Ndiaye got up from the mat after a dismal first half, to anchor a 2-3 zone that frustrated Cal center Richard Solomon to start the second half.
"Mamadou's a presence," said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery. "There's no question about it. He's a big dude. I thought he got into our heads a little bit, just because of guys trying to figure out what they could do. We knew that he doesn't like to come away from the basket very much, and they leave him down around the basket, so I thought Richard did a good job stepping away and hitting a couple early ones. David stepped away and hit some shots, so they pay a little bit of a price for that."
The tone was set from the opening tip – quite literally – as a be-goggled Solomon (wearing protection for a corneal abrasion that kept him off the court for the final two games of the Maui Invitational) easily swept the jump ball away from Ndiaye, and proceeded to score Cal's first four points of the evening. Ndiaye would only play three minutes in the first half after two quick fouls, thanks to Solomon's persistence.
"It felt good to be back," said Solomon, who, aside from "A couple elbows here and there from the big dude," didn't suffer the blurry vision that kept him out of two games in Maui.
For the Anteaters (5-4), that was a start contrast from their tilt against the Huskies, who kept crashing and breaking upon Ndiaye like waves on a rocky shoreline, unable to draw fouls from the freshman.
"I was just excited to be back after missing a couple games," Solomon said. "Once I saw how he was playing, if I was going to attack him, I was going to go into his body and try and draw a foul, make him foul me and use my quickness against him."
"It was great to have Rich back," Kravish gushed. "I love playing with Rich. My partner in crime, over here. If I get beat, I always know he's right there. Today was a little different because Ndiaye, he had his hands full. That guy, he posts up, his arms are right in your face and you're looking right into his chest, but it's nice having Rich back because he's such a great defender, and he takes pressure off of the perimeter shooters, because of what he can do inside. He's got a great technical game down low, he's got some good moves down low and takes pressure off of our perimeter players so they can get open. It's great to have Rich back."
Ndiaye played just 10 minutes on the night – including just three in the first half – and fouled out for the second time this season, with 7:29 remaining, going up against Solomon, who played Ndiaye tough down low all evening.
"He was giant," said the 6-foot-11 Solomon. "I didn't see anything but his chest the whole game, but he's huge. It was a good experience, playing against a big guy like that."
Solomon finished 3-for-9 for 13 points with eight rebounds in 19 minutes, but both he and Ndiaye got two early fouls and only played a combined nine minutes in the first half.
"He battled the big guy, stayed in front and, if you let Mamadou catch the ball at the block, there's nothing you can do," Montgomery said. "Unfortunately, he got those two early fouls, and those were kind of careless fouls, that he's kind of not done as much anymore – just that reaching around behind and grabbing – he's always done that, but I'm glad to have him back."
Ndiaye, though, played enough in the second half to make things interesting, anchoring the 2-3 zone and daring the Bears to go outside.
"We kind of knew when Ndiaye was in the game, when they were in the zone, he was going to sit back, and that was one of the things we talked about – we have to be able to hit that mid-range jumper," Kravish said. "I hit a couple, and they just kept giving me the ball. Justin [Cobbs] could just as easily have pulled that jumper, or Ty [Wallace] or Ricky [Kreklow] or even Rich. It doesn't matter. Whoever makes the shot, that's all we're looking for. They just kept giving me the ball, and I was making them."
Thanks to Kravish hitting four of six from midrange in the second half, the Bears didn't have to try to shoot themselves out of the zone from the perimeter.
With sophomore Tyrone Wallace and point guard Justin Cobbs coming in a combined 10-for-40 from three-point range, that wouldn't have been exactly what the doctor ordered. Instead, Cobbs played the role of facilitator, dishing out nine assists, and Wallace provided athletic help on the glass, tying a career high with 11 rebounds.
"We've talked about roles and guys understanding that not everybody gets to shoot the ball every time, nor should they," Montgomery said. "You've got to figure out what your advantage is in any given situation. We're trying to figure it out. Tyrone did what he is capable of doing. He got to the basket a couple times and he got 1 rebounds and five assists. That's perfect. Truthfully, we don't win without Justin distributing the ball. Justin had nine assists and should have had more. He came out and played a really good floor game. Those things don't show up […] between Tyrone and Justin doing what they did […] it allowd some other guys to get shots."
Ndiaye finished with just 10 minutes on the floor, though he tallied four points, five rebounds and two blocks – one on freshman Jabari Bird with 18:25 left in the second half, returning the favor after Bird – giving up a foot – swatted Ndiaye's shot from the right wing just 2:06 into the game.
Cal (6-2) got out to an early 14-6 lead thanks to two scintillating showings by Bird and Wallace, who turned in back-to-back eye-poppers after a Ricky Kreklow trey.
With 14:48 left in the first, Bird cut to the baseline and drove up and underneath for a back-door lay-in, and on the Bears' next possession, Wallace got on the break at the scorer's table, turned in a behind-the-back move to shake a defender and then hammered home a dunk, bringing 7,980 in Haas Pavilion – including former point guard A.J. Diggs and former Cal catcher (and current Oakland Athletics manager) Bob Melvin – to their feet.
With Ndiaye out of the way thanks to Solomon's gritty play down low, the Bears started out shooting 8-for-11, but towards the latter part of the first half, the Bears started matching the dreadful shooting performance from Irvine, scoring two points in 12 possessions and finishing the half an ice-cold 5-for-18.
"We were just talking about ball movement. We were getting a little stagnant on offense," Kravish said of the halftime talk. "That was evident when they made a big push, at the beginning. We just kind of passed the ball around and weren't really penetrating, so at halftime, coach was talking about really making their defense move, and getting some inside-outside shots and making the defense move around so we can get some open baskets, and we did. We made that adjustment."
Solomon will wear the goggles for the rest of the season.
"It was basically a scratch on the eyeball," Solomon said of the injury. "I couldn't see anything. It was really blurry and felt like something was permanently in my eye, so it hurt to blink and all that stuff. It was pretty bad. I couldn't really open my eye. If I could, I would have played, but there's nothing that you can do. You've got to let it heal."
When asked what the outcome in Maui would have been, had Solomon been able to play against Syracuse and Dayton, Kravish was modest.
"I think we would have done great," Kravish said. "I don't know what we would have done."
"I think we would have won the tournament, honestly," Solomon interjected.
The eye took until Friday before it finally felt normal, but, Solomon said, his vision was still a bit blurry.
"I don't want to get scratched in the eye again," Solomon said, when asked why he'll continue wearing the specs. "It's an adjustment. I'm not really used to playing with protective eyewear on my face, but you get used to them."
The affect of having Solomon back can't be understated, at least as far as Montgomery is concerned.
"Richard had made a comment that, when you miss a couple games like that, you're not quite in game rhythm, and I think that was true," Montgomery said. "I didn't see the same Richard that had been the case going into the Maui tournament – really confident. I think he was a little bit tentative and this game will really help him. I think this game will really help get his rhythm back."
Without Solomon, the Bears looked – and felt – depleted last week.
"Nobody could do anything in Maui," Montgomery said. "[Cobbs] was the only one who was able to do anything. You're not going to win doing that. What you do has to come in the context of spacing and movement and shot selection. That's what we're trying to do. Guys coming off the bench don't need to come in and score a lot of points, but they need to come in and defend and get some boards and give us some energy, and all those kinds of things.
Kreklow once again filled that particular role on Monday night, scoring six points on 2-of-6 shooting (both on three-pointers) with three rebounds, two assists and three steals in 24 minutes.
"Ricky has done a really good job of going in and picking up some minutes in there," Montgomery said. "We'd like to get Roger [Moute a Bidias], bring him along and have him help. We said from the get-go that we're a big short and we are. If they're both able to play, that's when we're better. With those two guys, we'll have to rest them as much as we can, and play off of them. But, toward the end of the game, if they're both able to play, that's when we're better."
The freshman Moute a Bidias finished with one point on 1-of-2 from the free throw line, pulled down one rebound and tallied one block in nine minutes.
Bird finished 4-for-10 from the field and 5-of-6 from the free throw line for 14 points – second-most in the game, behind Kravish – and added a block and two steals, with two boards in 27 minutes.
Cal got 16 points off the bench, led by six apiece from Jordan Mathews and Kreklow. Mathews went 2-for-5 shooting, 1-for-2 from three-point land and added three rebounds and an assist in 17 minutes.
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