BERKELEY -- The exhibition season is now a wrap for Cuonzo Martin and the California basketball team, and now it’s time to break down what we saw on Thursday, as the Golden Bears took down Cal State San Marcos, 74-52.
1. Jabari Bird just ‘Average,’ again. When the sophomore scorer was asked to evaluate his first two games in Martin’s system, Bird stared into the distance, took a beat, and said, almost crestfallen, ‘Average.’ It’s hard to disagree.
Bird shot just 10-for-24 over the two exhibition games, and has played a bit out of control. During the first exhibition, he over-penetrated in the second half and was called for a charge, and on Thursday, he didn't take time to set himself on a three-point attempt near the Cal bench in the second half. In one series under the basket, he made two put-back attempts on a lay-up that he should have made, with his second attempt also being a shot that Bird, by all rights, should make nine times out of 10.
“Not to the best of my ability. It’s two exhibition games, you just try to go out there and play hard, and be aggressive,” Bird said. “At times, I was a little too aggressive, didn’t necessarily make the right plays, but it’s all part of growing up, learning, playing the game.”
On Thursday, Bird showed some improvement, hitting a baseline reverse lay-in, avoiding the charge while tiptoeing the baseline to give the Bears a 23-12 lead with 5:24 left in the first half.
Bird was also 4-for-7 shooting in the first half, but went 2-for-5 the rest of the way.
“Getting better and better every day,” Martin said of Bird’s performance over the two exhibitions. “Being aggressive, does a good job of getting to the lane, just being in attack mode all the time, making the right decision with two guys collapsing on him, jump-stop, find the right shooters, or getting in the lane to shoot his pull-up, because he has a good pull-up game to shoot over guys, and just staying aggressive. Being ready to shoot the ball. I thought he had a three-point shot in the second half by the bench, but he wasn’t ready to shoot the ball. He has to be ready to shoot it at all times.”
What’s Bird’s inconsistent play been due to?
“Maybe a little excitement,” said Bird. “I'm really excited about this year, about the team we have, and sometimes, I try to do too much. Going into the season, I’ll definitely tighten that up, and we’ll get it going.”
Tightening things up was a theme for the Bears, as Martin said that, after playing two very different defensive schemes – a man scheme mixed with zone and press against Cal State East Bay last week, and almost exclusively a 3-2 zone on Thursday, and that leads into our second point.
2. Facing the zone: A mixed bag. The Bears did a good job at times of looking like they could break through the zone, thanks to three-pointers from Jordan Mathews (2-for-5 from three) and Tyrone Wallace (2-for-4), and even a late run by Dwight Tarwater, who hit two threes in a minute and a half midway through the second half.
“We work on [facing the zone] quite a bit, but the difference was, they ran a 3-2 zone,” Martin said. “We have an action for that, but we haven’t put it in this season. We’ve prepared against a 2-3 zone quite a bit in practice, because that’s what we do, but it was good for us to go through it.”
Cal had a poor shooting night compared to their first exhibition, seeing their shooting percentage drop from 57.6 against the Pioneers to 49.1% against the Cougars.
The Bears did penetrate much better against the zone, and capitalized, hitting 11 of 16 free throw attempts, as opposed to going 19-for-29. Wallace was particularly effective driving the lane, but point guard Sam Singer was a bit tentative, especially in the early goings.
“Without a doubt, without a doubt, because he’s a guy that can make plays off the dribble,” Martin said of Singer. “I thought he was passive in a lot of ways, instead of being in attack mode. I noticed that, from start to finish. I thought he needed to be more aggressive off the dribble. He needs to be more aggressive off the dribble.”
Despite going 5-for-10 to start the game, with two three-pointers, to start the game, Wallace was uncomfortable with the rhythm.
“I think we weren’t in a very good rhythm in the beginning of the game,” Wallace said. “We were just standing around too much, no movement, but once we got used to it, we’ve been practicing against the zone, so we have set plays and stuff. Once we got used to it, we kind of got settled in, were able to find guys in rhythm, find shots.”
Once Cal was able to get out in transition, the offense looked to flow much better, as the Bears scored 27 points off of turnovers, thanks to two steals by Mathews and three by Singer, who paced Cal in swipes for the second game in a row.
Ball movement was also much better in the second half, as the Bears had 10 assists on 14 field goals, including four from Singer, who finished with a game-high six helpers.
3. The offense without Kravish leaves quite a bit to be desired. With Kravish out of the game for three minutes for the first time in the first half, the Bears went just 1-for-4 shooting and seemed to be disjointed and stilted.
“He’s a stabilizer. He’s a guy that does a good job of flashing in the zone,” Martin said. “He’s a guy that can post up and find bodies, and also, the opposing team knows who he is. They have to identify him when he gets the ball down low, and when you get it down low, whether the double team is coming or not, he knows how to find the right guys. He knows how to make plays and make decisions with the basketball. But, I think it was good for us to go through it, without him. I thought our guys settled down. I thought Tyrone did a great job in the first half, really getting us settled and making plays off the dribble, getting to the lane and finding a shooter.”
Cal did, however, show an ability to adapt, going 5-for-8 during his other stretches on the bench in the first half. In the second half, Cal went 8-for-17 with Kravish on the bench for about 13 minutes.
“You want to try to rest Dave when you can, give King (Kingsley Okoroh) more minutes,” said Martin. “I want to get Christian [Behrens] more minutes, but he got in foul trouble in the first half.”
Behrens got into early foul trouble, getting his first two fouls in the first 2:07, meaning that Tarwater, Okoroh and Roger Moute a Bidias got most of the time at the four. Moute a Bidias played the four for 9:38 over the course of the game, while Behrens played the four for 13:05, with the bulk of that coming late in the second half, for 9:12, until the regulars were subbed out.
4. Rebounding. At times, Behrens, Okoroh and Tarwater were out-rebounded by 6-foot-4, 255-pound Julian Camper down low, with Okoroh looking tentative at times with the unexpected physicality. Okoroh did provide a bright spot with four blocks, but defensive rebounding remains a trouble spot.
“One of the things we talked about when we watched these guys on film, I told our guys to set a physical tone, really play hard. [Cal State San Marcos] played tough, and do a great job of playing together,” Martin said. “I thought it was important that we play physical, and that we carve out space on both sides of the ball. Offense, you’ve got to get your space, because those guys take it away.”
The Cougars came away with 11 offensive rebounds on the night, with six of those coming from Camper.
“They had physical guys – they weren’t as tall, but I thought they did a good job moving guys around the rim,” Martin said. “We’ve really focused on rebounding and boxing out, but also just being big, forcing guys to make shots, and not trying to block every shot. I thought we did a solid job of that tonight. I thought our guards did a better job of going in, and trying to get rebounds.”
6-foot-6 Wallace – with his long arms – only managed just one rebound, but Mathews pulled down four and Bird had three. Moute a Bidias actually paced the Bears with six rebounds, three on each end of the floor, and he continues to look like the surprise of the year on this roster, and certainly the most improved player.
ODDS AND ENDS
• Cal had eight blocks on the game, with four from Okoroh, three from Kravish and one by Singer, who played a team-high 28 minutes.
• Four Bears scored in double digits, paced by 13 points apiece from Wallace and Bird. Wallace went 4-for-9 from the field and 3-for-4 from the free throw line, with five assists.
• Behrens had a team-high four turnovers in just 13 minutes, and finished with nine points, going 4-for-4 from the field and 1-for-2 from the charity stripe.
• There were several notable faces in the crowd, including 2016 four-star Carlos Johnson, former Cal baseball player and current Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin, as well as a cadre of Bears football players fresh off of practice, including Tre Watson, David Davis, Devante Downs, Noah Westerfield, Trey Cheek, Vic Enwere, Darius Powe, Ray Davison and Hamilton Anoa’i. Cal baseball two-way player Lucas Erceg also popped in. He and the diamond Bears will play a three-game Blue and Gold Series this weekend to conclude fall ball, starting on Friday at 4 p.m. at Evans Diamond.