BERKELEY -- California is hot, and not just compared to the polar vortex gripping the rest of the country. The Bears came in to Wednesday's bout with Washington having won their first three conference road games, including victories over rival Stanford and then-No. 17 Oregon.
The Huskies also came in hot. Washington started 3-1 in Pac-12 play, with a recent upset over ranked Colorado and a loss by just nine points to No. 1 Arizona.
On Wednesday, the Bears were not just a remarkably better team on paper -- given the resume of wins on their schedule – but also on the floor. That became apparent minutes into Cal's first Pac-12 home game of the season, with the Bears surging ahead to a 82-56 win and remain undefeated in conference play.
Despite Washington's noted athletic ability, Cal knew that the Huskies' only had one true offensive threat in 6-foot-5 guard C.J. Wilcox. Wilcox -- a legitimate NBA prospect with the talent to be drafted -- came in averaging 20.5 points on 46.4% shooting from the field.
Rather than match up the freshman Jordan Mathews on him, head coach Mike Montgomery elected to go with experience and speed in senior guard Justin Cobbs. Cobbs' speed allowed him to shadow Wilcox on the defensive end, limiting touches and taking away open lanes for driving layups. Instead, Cobbs forced Wilcox to score by shooting the basketball, and while his talent was obvious at times on the floor, Wilcox alone could not keep the Huskies close to Cal for very long.
"Justin just took away Wilcox," said junior David Kravish, who wasn't too shabby on defense himself, and with his four blocks, moved into sole possession of second place on the program's all-time blocks list. "He really made him look uncomfortable the whole game."
But aside from Cobbs' defense, the other aspect in defending against Wilcox came in the form of defending the point guard. Sophomore Tyrone Wallace -- arguably the Bears' best and most athletic defender -- was assigned to defending the primary Washington ball handler – a role which alternated between Andrew Andrews and Nigel Williams-Goss.
"Tyrone did a really nice job on Goss," Montgomery said. "They asked for those assignments. Tyrone had played AAU basketball or summer basketball with Goss. He knew him. Justin wanted to guard Wilcox. That was a good match-up."
Due to Wallace's length and athleticism, both Williams-Goss and Andrews had issues not only attacking the basket, but in dealing with available space trying to get Wilcox the basketball. Both were forced to find alternative methods to move the basketball around, oftentimes disrupting Washington's offense.
The result was an all-around ugly game for Wilcox and, consequently, for the Huskies on offense. Cobbs and company did a fantastic job forcing tough shots that simply did not go in. After Washington started the game 4-for-7 from the field, the Huskies proceeded to hit just two of their next 12 shots. As Wilcox struggled, so did the Huskies, who could just not find any sort of consistency on offense all night long.
In the first half, Wilcox went a mere 3-for-8 from the field, hitting his first two shots -- a fast-break layup and a mid-range jump shot -- in building up an early 8-2 Washington lead. But from that point, the Bears' defense went to work, allowing only deep, contested jump shots the rest of the way. Wilcox wound up only making 1 of his next 6 shots the rest of the half, including 0-for-3 from three-point range. His only other points during the first half came as a result of a backdoor alley-oop layup late.
Aside from Wilcox, Washington shot a dismal 4-for-21 (19%) in the opening period. The Bears capitalized, going on a 28-9 run to take a 30-17 halftime lead. After the opening minutes, the Bears tightened up and surged ahead, never to be threatened again.
The Huskies attempted to make some adjustments in the second half, quickly pushing the ball up the court hoping to catch the Bears sleeping in transition and allow for more favorable matchups. But while Washington did score 39 second-half points, that was more of a result of a faster second-half tempo. In the second half, the Huskies only shot 12-for-35 from the field, good for 35%. Wilcox was a bit more effective, shooting 4-for-7 from the field -- including 2-for-4 from three -- but still had his touches limited. By the time he scored most of his 12 second-half points, the game had long been decided.
The Bears limited Wilcox's touches through their game plan, and forced tough, contested shots when he did try to score. The result was a good game for Wilcox on the stat sheet, but not very efficient: 18 points on 15 shots, including 2-for-7 from behind the 3-point line.
"He finished with a decent line," Kravish said, "but when you're looking at Justin busting his butt out there on Wilcox, he's chewing his mouthpiece and he didn't look too comfortable out there. Justin did a great job, and so did Tyrone. 3-for-11, 2-for-11 – we forced a pretty good field goal percentage for the defensive side."
The Huskies needed to find alternative methods to score, and failed miserably. The other Washington players shot a combined 12-for-48 from the field—a dismal 25%. The Bears took a risk on defense, but played it well enough to earn a 26-point win and remain 4-0 in conference play.
Cal has shown their offensive prowess despite not having key players available on the floor. But if the Bears are going to make a serious run at Arizona for the conference championship, they need to do it on the defensive end.
Against the Huskies, they passed with flying colors.
"Defense won that game for us," said Richard Solomon, who finished the game with one block and eight defensive rebounds, as he and Kravish became the first two Bears teammates to record 100 blocks each. "The first half, the ball was a little sticky on offense and we got it moving in the second half. We had 15 assists in the second half to one turnover, so the ball was really moving, but defense is going to win games for us. We know that. We're not really concerned about offense. We want to play defense, rebound, block shots – whatever it's going to take to make this team successful. That's why we're all coming together, and that's what we want to do."
ANALYSIS: Defense, Bears … Defense
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