BERKELEY -- Following California's slow start and embarrassing loss to UC Santa Barbara on Friday, head coach Mike Montgomery elected to shake up the starting lineup. Freshman Jordan Mathews was one of two new starters on the floor, with the concept being to get the team a streaky shooter on the floor right after warmups, hoping he could convert at the start.
"Jordan played well in the last game," Montgomery said, noting Mathews' 22-point performance against the Gauchos. "It wasn't like we arbitrarily decided that the starting lineup was our best five. We wanted to have a veteran come off the bench, i.e. Ricky [Kreklow]. It was Ty [Wallace] in this situation. I think Jabari [Bird] knew that he wasn't playing as well as he's capable of. It didn't really bother him. We just wanted to change. If we can keep it competitive, we want to. We want to keep guys motivated. We don't want guys to get stale or take anything for granted. I'd like to get Sam Singer and Roger [Moute a Bidias] more time."
Mathews, though, delivered, igniting an offense that has had its slow moments this season. With his jump shot and his free throws in the first half, Mathews ignited Cal early, allowing the Bears to prevail in a 92-84 shootout win over Nevada.
"Anything I can do to help, it doesn't really matter," Mathews said. "When he told me I was starting it just was different, nine games…in in high school I started a lot, but then I got used to coming off the bench, I got used to just coming in and being able to help in whatever way possible. It's not so much different, as it's just an adjustment I'll have to make, a different role to help us win. The different role is that coach said we needed a different vibe, different energy. So Ricky and I, when we changed the starting lineup, just bring in energy in the jump and just play hard."
Mathews was particularly efficient in the first half, scoring 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting from the floor. When Cal struggled early from the field, Mathews was the one keeping in the game.
With the Bears facing their largest deficit at 20-12, Mathews ferociously pulled down an offensive rebound off of a missed Jabari Bird three. While getting pummeled along the left baseline, Mathews managed to strong-arm a shot off of the backboard and convert while drawing the foul.
The three-point play started a 32-16 run, surging the Bears from behind out to a 49-40 lead at halftime. Of Mathews' 11 first half points, 4 came via the free throw line, with 3 of those 4 points coming as a result of getting fouled while running the fast break. Mathews was 1-for-2 from the 3-point line, while also converting that and-1 and a baseline jumper. Mathews' 11 points on 4 shots was the Bears most efficient in the first half.
"Jordan is a coach's son. He takes criticism. His dad has probably told him a thing or two that would peel paint off the wall," Montgomery said. "He's not afraid of criticism He's a tough guy and he wants to learn, so he asks questions. Justin likes people to come to him. He's not afraid to take a big shot and he's been pretty good for us from the perimeter. He's a good shooter. We just need to keep bringing him along defensively."
Montgomery started Mathews partly with the intention of catching fire with a streak shooter early in the game. Against zone defenses, Mathews could be an asset scoring the ball in many different ways as he did in the first half, and his jumper alone can force opponents to quickly abandon zone defenses and play more traditional man-to-man, which the Bears have far better success against.
Mathews scored 8 of the Bears' first 20 points. He hit early jump shots and converted free throws which kept Cal close when Nevada went on an early run, and his offensive play opened up the rest of the court, and allowed five teammates to reach double figures in points. The Bears scored 49 first-half points—the highest offensive output in the first half this season.
Mathews only scored two second half points behind 1-of-4 shooting from the field, but it was his offensive output early in the game that made the difference. If Mathews can continue starting fast and giving the Bears an edge offensively early in the game, Montgomery might have to keep with that hot hand.
ANALYSIS: The Hot Hand
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