BERKELEY -- Princeton hit its first eight field goals of the game -- icing eight three-pointers in the first half -- against California on Saturday, stifled any momentum the Bears may have had with a 1-3-1 zone defense and completely shut down Cal’s best scoring threats early. The Tigers very nearly became the second team this year – after No. 10 Texas – to defeat the Bears, and the first at Haas Pavilion. But, Tyrone Wallace had something to say about that, as Cal escaped with a 67-57 win, thanks to 20 second-half points from Wallace.
“A better second half than a first one,” said head coach Cuonzo Martin. “That’s one of those styles that’s hard to duplicate in practice. I thought Princeton did a great job of coming out and moving the ball, and we did a poor job of challenging the three-point shot and contesting threes in the first half.”
The junior point guard Wallace went off on 8-of-16 shooting after the half to hoist the Bears (9-1) over a 37-28 halftime deficit (just the third time this year that Cal has trailed at the half), but Wallace – and his 23 total points, eight boards and three assists -- wasn’t the only factor. Princeton's hot start -- going 8-for-14 from three-point land, with every player who hit the floor recording at least three points and all but two of the seven who played sinking at least two field goals -- faded down the stretch.
“It was frustrating, but to the point where we knew we were not executing on the defensive end how we needed to," said senior center David Kravish, who, with his 11 points, eclipsed 1,000 for his career. "Unfortunately, we gave up nine straight buckets and (Princeton) did not miss. But credit to them, they are a great shooting team. We gave them the looks they wanted to get, and that is something we have to take away and we did a better job taking that away during the second half. Early on, we struggled from mental lapses. We went under the dribble hand-offs, the ball screens and they like to step behind that to shoot the three. Maybe over-helping the ball throughout the post, because when we were over-helping, they were looking to draw the defense and kick out for a three, so I think those were a couple of things that hurt us.
In the second half, the Tigers went on a 9:37 scoring drought, during which they missed 10 straight shots. Princeton started the half off going 3-for-14.
“We did a better job in the second half of shutting them down, getting those guys off the line and containing the dribble,” Martin said. “I thought they did a great job of going to their big guy in the high post in the first half, making plays, backdoor cuts, three-point shots, rolling to the rim, and they had us on our heels, but it’s an offense that’s hard to duplicate and hard to deny the wings.”
While they couldn’t match the torrid Tigers start, Cal wasn't exactly inept shooting in the first half, going 12-for-20 (60%) – a marked increase from the past two games – but Wallace and Kravish were still mystified. Kravish only got three looks from the floor in the first half, and maybe one of those was clean. He still hit two shots, but was largely neutralized as Cal had difficulty passing through the Tigers zone.
"We got stagnant in the first half," Martin said. "When (Kravish) got in foul trouble, we didn’t get the flash. You have to have a flash guy – a guy that can pass, fake, dribble and penetrate. With David as that flash, he can see the defense, he can make plays, he can dribble the ball and he can post up. When he went out, the adjustment we made in the second half was to put Tyrone as the flash guy."
In the first half, Wallace found it tough to drive the lane against the Tigers, going 0-for-2 in the paint in the first half.
"I think in the first half, the zone caught me off guard," Wallace said. "I was trying to find a way to navigate that while getting my guys some shots and getting myself shots too. I think as a team we struggled during the first half. Even if we shot the ball well, we were not crisp with attacking the zone. In the second half, we just need to be more aggressive and turn it up. We got some clean rebounds, got in the break a little bit, and I was able to get some points there. From there, I was able to get into a rhythm."
As the Tigers rained down three-pointers, Cal went to the 2-3 zone to try to mitigate the long-distance shelling -- which, at that point, had Princeton shooting 6-of-9 from beyond the arc -- and it worked, as Princeton shot 2-for-5 for the rest of the half from distance.
Still, the Tigers’ 37 first-half points was the most given up by the Bears in a first half this season, after a previous high of 32 allowed against Alcorn State.
Wallace – who at one point scored 19 points in 20 minutes – was left as the sole remaining point guard with experience with 4:21 left in the first half after Sam Singer was dinged with two early fouls, and with Brandon Chauca on the bench. That meant that Brendan Glapion got to make his collegiate debut for the Bears, and he tallied one assist in his first four minutes.
Wallace took center stage in the second half, scoring eight of Cal’s first 10 points, getting to the rack and splitting double teams as he found more lanes to drive. After halftime, Wallace got 14 looks from the paint, hitting 3-of-6 layups and 5-of-8 non-layups from the paint. Princeton, meanwhile, became more susceptible to the transition game that really makes the Bears’ offense tick, as they shot 3-of-9 to start the half, and 1-for-5 from three-point range, giving Cal more rebounding opportunities.
"It was winning time," Wallace said. "We did not want to lose. Guys stepped it up on defense. They were not getting as many easy looks from the threes. There weren’t that many backdoors. As a team, we just came together and tightened the defense up. Then we were able to stop them for about thirteen possessions. They were getting wide out threes, shots they should not get and during the second half- they didn’t get that many good looks and as a result they only shot about 30-something from the field during the second half. We were able to get a feel for how they were playing on offense and then we could switch up what we were doing on defense in order to be successful.
Over a course of eight minutes, the Tigers turned the ball over three times. The Bears wound up recording 23 of their 67 points off of 16 Princeton turnovers, with perhaps the most well-timed coming on a Singer steal and coast-to-coast lay-in that pushed the Bears’ lead to 49-44 with 5:49 left in the game.
Christian Behrens had his second straight 12-point game to tie a career high, finishing 4-of-5 from the field and 4-of-6 from the free throw line, where the Bears went 15-for-21 on the game. Behrens added four rebounds, two assists and a steal.
“Christian has made huge strides," said Kravish, who was part of the same recruiting class as Behrens. "He’s been fighting off that ACL, had another one, so that was tough. He’s finally healthy, and he’s comfortable. He’s able to finally go out there and play basketball. Coach is demanding a lot from him, and he’s rising to the challenge.”
After being down by as many as 11 points, Cal took its first lead on a pair of Behrens free throws with 8:57 remaining in the second half (45-44) as part of a 13-0 run that ended with the Bears on top, 49-44.
"He gives us momentum plays," Wallace said of Behrens. "We feed of off those. CB is great at giving his body up for us and that’s just a big play. Those are just great plays that we need to get better at doing and CB does that on the regular."
Wallace put his stamp on the game by making 3-of-4 free throws in the final two minutes, and he also lit up the highlight reel by going for a dunk, but getting spun around in mid-air by his defender and hitting the inadvertent reverse lay-up with 1:24 remaining, drawing the foul and fouling out Amir Bell.
The Bears arguably won the game at the charity stripe, hitting 11-of-13 from the free throw line in the second half, while the Tigers had just one trip to the line after the break, hitting 1-of-1. Princeton, which started off so hot, shot 8-for-23 from the field and 2-for-11 from three-point range following the break.
"The speed of (its offense) and the back cuts," Martin said, were what made the Tigers' offense so tough to stop early. "When they post, they are really trying to probe you as a defense to help get one of their shooters the ball on the perimeter. When you deny the wings, they go backdoor on you and they will send two guys backdoor. We were on our heels in the first half and we allowed the ball to move from side-to-side. When that happens against a team that shoots the way Princeton shoot, it can be a long night."
Cal, off to its best start since the 2001-02 season, continues a seven-game home stand on Friday at 7 p.m. against Eastern Washington, and will be carried on the Pac-12 Networks.
• Kravish came into the game having shot just 7-for-23 over the past two games, but finished 5-of-8 from the field in his 26 minutes.
"I didn’t even know what my shooting was going into today," Kravish said. "Sometimes they fall, sometimes they don’t. You just have to go in with a fresh mindset. It’s a game and I have to go back and think, 'It’s just a game, and we’re winning these games.' 9-1 is great, but as we always say, 10-1 is better."
• With two blocks against the Tigers, Kravish raised his career total to 196, which is now sixth in Pac-12 history, just ahead of USC’s Sam Clancy, who had 195 from 1999-2002. Kravish is also No. 2 all-time at Cal, behind only Michael Stewart, who had 207 blocks from 1994-97.
• With his 11 points, Kravish became the 44th player in school history to reach 1,000. He now has 1,006 for his career, which is No. 43 on the school’s all-time list.
• Cal is 8-0 when allowing fewer than 60 points and 1-1 when giving up 60 or more.
• The Bears have won their last nine games at Haas Pavilion, dating back to last season. Cal has won its last 16 non-conference home games, dating back to the 2012-13 season.
• Overall, the Bears ended the game outscoring Princeton, 31-13, over the final 15:06.
• With 23 points, Wallace continued his run of scoring in double figures in every game this season.
• After both teams made well more than half their shots in the first half – Cal 60% (12-20), Princeton 61.9% (13-21) – both teams cooled off significantly in the second half – Cal 41.9% (13-31) and Princeton 34.8% (8-23).
• With 5 rebounds, Kravish increased his career total to 746, which is ninth on Cal’s career list. Next on the list at No. 8 at Richard Solomon (759 from 2011-14).