BERKELEY -- With Jabari Bird still “day to day” according to California head coach Cuonzo Martin, the Bears square off with 8-1 Wyoming on Wednesday at 8:05 p.m., at Haas Pavilion on the Pac-12 Networks. Cal has now played two games without the talented sophomore, and it appears that they’ll definitely play a third.
“He’s very doubtful for tomorrow,” Martin said on Tuesday. As for freshman point guard Brandon Chauca? “Brandon, we’ll see how it goes, and, depending on how he’s feeling today and tomorrow.”
Bird has yet to practice since injuring his foot during the loss to Texas.
“I think it’s a matter of, when he’s on the floor, he’s ready to play,” Martin said of Bird, who was walking with crutches before the game against Nevada on Sunday. “I would imagine a week. I’m not exactly sure, and I don’t want to give any type of data, unless it’s exact.”
Without Bird and Chauca, the Bears had a dreadful night from three-point land, going 3-for-12, including 0-for-3 in the first half. Not having the two has also put a crimp in practice, and coaches have been pressed into service.
“I think, to be at a high level, especially on offense, you want all your parts,” Martin said. “Your spacing, your movement, your cutting, especially, you expect guys to be at certain spots, and with that being said, injuries happen all the time. When you’re already short-handed going into a season, and you have key guys in those positions when you practice certain plays, all of the sudden, you go into a game like a Montana game, where you have three point guards on the floor, they hadn’t been in certain positions. It’s hard to run plays. But, it happens. No excuse for it. You’ve still got to find a way to make plays. I think, defensively, you can still be sound. You have to get coaches out there to help out doing that.”
Cal was indeed sound, defensively, against the Wolf Pack, holding Nevada to 18-of-54 shooting and 1-for-8 from beyond the arc.
As for the offense, though, with Bird and Chauca unlikely, that means that Jordan Mathews will have to take on a bigger role against the Cowboys, who blasted Colorado – picked to finish third in the Pac-12 -- 56-33 on Nov. 22.
“It’s just something we’ve got to roll with,” Mathews said of the injuries. “We had two good wins this past week, so it hasn’t hurt us that much. Yeah, we’d like to have them on the court, but it’s a long season. You’ve got to take the blows and roll with it.”
Since returning from the 2K Classic in New York, the Bears have gone 4-0, winning by an average of just 9.0 points per game, but the last three games have been decided by seven points or fewer.
“Coach said, when you get punched in the face, the greatest thing to do is to punch back and fight back, so that’s hwere we’re at,” said Roger Moute a Bidias. “The teams we’ve played are good teams. We played coach Travis, who knows us, and recruited most of us. The most important thing is, we came out and took the first blow and came back and fought and won the game.”
“These tight games have helped us, because conference [play] is tough,” Mathews said. “These are helping us, because you’re playing teams who know you – we played Montana, who knew us, Nevada knew us – it does help us for conference.”
Mathews went 1-for-8 shooting and 0-for-3 from three-point land on Sunday, by far his worst performance this season. The sophomore shot 39.6% from the field last season, and 38.2% from beyond the three-point arc.
“They’ve been difficult games,” Mathews said. “At the end of the night, we’ve gotten wins from all of the games we’ve had, except for Texas. There’s not much you can say about that. We’ve got to tighten up the screws a little bit, play hard and play our game as a team.”
Mathews ranks second on the team in scoring (13.9 ppg), and will have to become a reliable second option behind starting point guard Tyrone Wallace.
“When you’ve got a situation without Jabari, and Brandon only played one game, the other guys have to step up,” Martin said. “The other guys are getting key minutes, learning on the fly. You have an opportunity. I’ve said it before: With adversity comes opportunity. When an opportunity presents itself, you have to be ready.”
Wallace is this week’s reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week, after averaging 25.5 points 11.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists over the past two games.
“I think, in the last couple games, in Ty’s case, he goes and gets rebounds,” Martin said. “He wants to rebound. I think rebounding is more desire and heart. He’s going to get rebounds. Now, offensively, he’s doing what we do in practice. He’s not taking any shots that I don’t think he should be taking. He’s putting pressure on the defense, getting to the lane. If they don’t help, he’s finishing plays. If they help, he’s finding the big guys, finding perimeter guys – basically, just playing simple basketball. I think what happened is his production, from a numbers standpoint, has gone up without Jabari. It’s not a case of us saying, ‘Ty, we need you to shoot more shots.’ He’s putting pressure on the defense and he’s making plays.”
Cal was able to reduce its turnovers on Sunday, going from 22 against Montana to just three against the Wolf Pack. Wyoming averages 6.4 steals per game, and opponents have turned the ball over just over 12 times per game against the Cowboys.
“The 22 turnovers, that was a case of us, one, being careless with the ball, and two, credit the opponent for doing their job,” Martin said. “I think that was the biggest key, because it wasn’t like we went back to the drawing board, to the basics – preschool passing. It’s just, ‘Take care of the ball, guys. Do what we do in practice: Play unselfishly,’ and those were the results in that game.”
That said, the Bears had just 10 assists on 24 field goals.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s concerning,” Martin said. “I think we had pretty good opportunities. You go back and watch the film, I thought there were several times – I counted, I think, eight times – where we had good looks off dribble penetration. The ball just didn’t go in. That was mainly from three-point shots. The ball didn’t fall. But, I thought our guys did a great job, especially in the second half, of dribble penetrating and making plays.”
Martin Scouts Wyoming: “They’re very well-coached, one of the most disciplined teams you’ll see on both ends of the floor. Really make you work on both ends of the floor. On offense, you have to be able to make shots. If you don’t make shots, it becomes extremely tough, because of the way they defend. They don’t allow you to get in the lane. They force you to make tough shots on the perimeter. Offensively, they execute their offense as well as anybody in the country. They ball screen, with motion and spacing, they have perimeter guys that can make shots, they have post guys that can make plays. Larry Nance, Jr., is one of the best bigs in the country, regardless of what level. He posts up strong, he’s a great athlete, so they have all the parts to be successful. They’ve been together for a while, so they understand each other. When you have a team like that, with that kind of chemistry, and the way they bond, it’s always tough.”