Martin Era Begins With Resounding Win
BERKELEY – After six successful seasons under Mike Montgomery, fans of the California men’s basketball team were eager to see how the new coach would fare in the early going. The beginning of the Cuonzo Martin era for Cal did not disappoint, as the Bears defeated the Alcorn State Braves 91-57 in the opening game of the season, looking very impressive in the process.
The Bears opened the game strong from the get-go, beginning the game with a 15-0 run starting the Martin era with a three-pointer by Jordan Mathews. By the time five minutes had elapsed in the first half, the Bears were up 17-2 with Mathews and Jabari Bird combining for 10 early points.
“For the most part we played really well,” said starting point guard Tyrone Wallace. “We got out in transition, we were playing good defense early on. We got to continue to work on [defense]. I think we gave up, in the second half. to many offensive rebounds and foul. From the offensive aspect, we moved the ball really well, got us sharing the ball and it was a team effort.”
Cal(1-0) began the game with the same line up that started the two exhibition games earlier in the week, with Bird, Wallace, and Matthews in the backcourt. All starters ended the game in double figures, with Wallace leading all scorers with 22 points to go along with his 10 rebounds. David Kravish added 13 points while his front court partner Christian Behrens contributed 10 points and four rebounds. Matthews finished the game with 18 points, while Bird rounded out the starters with 12.
“I thought it was a great first game for our guys,” said Martin. “I thought both teams played with energy, and I thought they played hard. Our guys did a great job offensively moving the ball and making the extra pass. I thought we did a good job staying aggressive against their zone, and not getting stagnant.”
The Bears shot the ball well, hitting 52% percent from the field and 42% from three. Alcorn State was considerably worse, averaging 32% percent from the field and 20% from three. Cal won the rebounding battle, 4-34, and the turnover battle, 10-8, which allowed for 15 second chance points for the Bears.
“Coach Riley does a great job with individual skill development,” said Martin. “They’re good one-on-one player. The biggest thing for us defensively, of course you need your team defense, was we had to be good one-on-one. They made some plays one-on-one so we have to get better at that, but I thought it was a great first game for our guys.”
The Braves were led by LeAntwan Luckett, who seemed to be one of only two Alcorn State players that were capable of scoring against the far more athletic Bears. He contributed 18 points on the perimeter, while Marquis Vance added 17 points and nine rebounds inside.
Cal surged ahead early, winning 29-12 just ten minutes into the game, and they never looked back, maintaining a fairly comfortable lead throughout. The Bears continued their relentless pressure and forced an 18-point halftime lead, going into the break with an impressive 50-32 lead.
“I thought it was a good game for our guys,” said Martin. “I thought there was good energy in the arena and we played hard. We had fun out there, which is the biggest key. Play hard, play defense, rebound, play together and try to have some fun amidst of that.”
In the first half Cal’s offense came out hot as they shot 52% from the field in the first half, good for 50 points. The Braves came out struggling. Alcorn State shot 38% from the field and 20% from three, going 1-5.
“Not bad” said Martin of Cal’s zone defense, which they employed in the second half. “I thought they did a good job. I thought our two guys up top did a lot of gambling, instead of being solid. They have to be consistent, do your job up top so they don’t break down and penetrate the middles, as you put a lot of pressure on our big guys, but overall I thought we did a good job overall of slowing them down.”
After halftime, it was more of the same for the Bears, who comfortably coasted and ruthlessly built on their lead. Martin experimented with a few different strategies, including a full-court press and a 2-3 zone which was instituted for the entire second half.
“It felt like the previous two exhibition games,” said Bird, who finished with a career-high nine assists, to go along with his12 points on 5-or-8 shooting. “Nothing really changed today. It was the same routine, walk-through, and shoot-around. We just went out there and handled business.”
While this is only the first game of the Martin era, the Cal squad looked very impressive in numerous facets and could surprise many critics if they continue to play at this pace. However, Coach Martin and his team will need to continue to improve to be able to spring an upset when they face their first real test next Thursday against Syracuse in New York.
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