BERKELEY -- Going into their Saturday matinee battle against Fresno State, the Cal Bears had their eyes circled on the Bulldogs' star guard Marvelle Harris. This makes sense, given that Harris is a 6-foot-4 guard with the same athletic ability as former Bulldog superstar Paul George, who lead Fresno State in scoring at 18.4 points per game on 50% shooting, to go along with 5.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per contest.
The Bears must have got the memo on Harris, as they consistently pestered Harris with stingy man defense primarily from Tyrone Wallace and Ricky Kreklow. The result was a defensive affair, as the Bears slugged their way to a 67-56 victory over the Bulldogs.
The Bears defense on Harris was relentless, as the Fresno State star just could not get going for much of the game. Harris finished the game with 13 points on only 5-for-18 shooting from the field and only 2-for-5 from the free throw line. In addition to struggling to score the basketball, Harris did not record an assist for the game while committing 4 turnovers. All in all, it was a nightmarish game for the guard, and Cal's defense was the primary reason why.
"Sometimes you got to win with defense," said head coach Mike Montgomery postgame. "Defensively, I thought we were good. I thought we followed the game plan. They do a lot of dribble-handoffs […] create a lot of matchup problems."
"I thought we defended it well."
In the first half, Cal went with straight man-defense, putting their best and most athletic defenders on Harris. Wallace and Kreklow took turns guarding Harris on the perimeter, oftentimes giving him no space on the perimeter and encouraging Harris to drive to the basket to be contested against Cal's big men. The result was Harris' worst half of the season, finishing with only 2 points on 0-for-7 shooting and 2-for-4 from the free throw line. In addition to porous shooting, Harris managed to record only 1 assist while being forced into 3 turnovers.
In that first half, Harris struggled to develop any sort of rhythm to his game. When Wallace and Kreklow were on him, he dribbled right into bigger defenders in the post. When Harris managed to draw anybody else on the perimeter, he tried more pull-up jumpshots and 3-point attempts from the elbow—none of which he was able to convert. Clearly, as the stat sheet indicated, Harris struggled from everywhere on the floor.
As Harris struggled, so did Fresno State, who only managed 21 total first half points on 26.7% shooting from the field. The Bears led 28-21 at halftime.
In the second half, the Bears went with the same defensive philosophy of man-defense, but Harris countered by making it his own mission to attack the basket. The results were more successful for Harris, with 7 of his 11 shots coming from inside of 5 feet, with all 7 coming from driving attempts at the basket.
The results were more favorable for Harris, as he scored 11 points on 5-for-11 shooting in the 2nd half. But while his aggressive play against the Bears' defense resulted in a higher offensive output for both himself and for Fresno State in the second half, it just was not good enough to overcome Cal's 39 second-half points in the loss.
"We didn't do anything in particular. We switched," said Montgomery. "He's definitely an undersized guy. When we switched, he had a bigger defender on him, and he had to shoot over him. Shots weren't falling for him, today."
Harris only had one stretch where he converted consecutive baskets in the second half -- an uncontested fast break dunk off of a turnover followed by a three-point shot from the right elbow which cut Cal's lead to 34-32 in the second half. However, the Bears immediately responded with a 14-5 run, and the game was never really too close for comfort again after that. All in all, Cal just would not let Harris get into rhythm.
The Bears' defense against Harris was a good test for Cal, given the plethora of elite scorers that they will face soon enough. From Creighton's Doug McDermott to UCLA's Kyle Anderson to Arizona State's Jahii Carson, the Bears will have plenty of games in which their defense will have to deal with elite athletes and scorers on the wing.
The success of the 2013-14 season might lie with how the Bears defend against those scorers. On Saturday afternoon, Cal passed this particular test with flying colors.
-- Richard Solomon recorded his third double-double of the season (17 points, 14 rebounds) the Bears' 67-56 victory over the Bulldogs in front of 9,342 at Haas Pavilion. Solomon's 17 points are a new season-high, and he lead the Bears in points, rebounds, and steals (3) today.
-- Point guard Justin Cobbs recorded 13 points, passing Kevin Singleton to take over 34th on Cal's All-Time Scoring List with 1,077 points. With four assists, Cobbs also moved into seventh on California's All-Time Assist List with 397.
-- With the win, Montgomery moves past former UCLA head coach John Wooden and into sole possession of 27th on the NCAA's all-time wins list for Division I men's basketball coaches, with 665. Cal is now 42-6 in non-conference home games under Montgomery, and 7-0 this season.
ANALYSIS: Not So Marvelle-ous
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