But, Jordan Mathews decided to have a game. Falling one point short of his career-high 32 points scored against Oregon last year – coincidentally, the last time a Cal player surpassed the 30-point mark – the sophomore guard out of Santa Monica, Calif., shot 8-for-14 and 5-for-8 from three-point land, as Cal clawed back from a five-point halftime deficit against No. 21 Washington to come away with an 81-75 win at Haas Pavilion.
“Jordan is one of those guys who is concerned with his shot, meaning, he’s not a selfish player but his game is gauged on whether or not his shot is falling," said head coach Cuonzo Martin. "The thing that I always talk to the guys about every day is defend, rebound and play hard. Offense comes and goes. One of the best guys to ever play in the game, Michael Jordan, missed a lot of shots. Kobe Bryant has missed a lot of shots. But they played the game. You can’t consume yourself with how many shots are falling and not falling. You can see Jordan’s body language when his shot isn’t falling. We just really work with him in practice to focus on the defense and playing hard and doing the little things. It carried over tonight so we have to be consistent with that. He’s going to get the shots. We’re looking for him. He’s one of the few guys that most of our plays are designed for him to get shots.”
And now, on to the analysis.
1. Mama, there goes that Mathews. Mathews was no enigma coming into the game for Lorenzo Romar and the Huskies (11-2, 0-1 in Pac-12). Romar specifically mentioned Mathews when he joined the Pac-12 media on a conference call earlier this week, saying: “Jordan Mathews is so streaky; if he gets on a roll, he can go out and get 30, like he did when he was a freshman.”
“We got into a good rhythm early. I missed the first [shot], but then came back with a couple [shots]. I sat down with Coach [Martin] this week and he said you just have to stay with it the whole game," Mathews said. "I think I was getting away from that, getting down on myself and letting things outside the game affect me. But inside those lines, those 40 minutes are what really matter. I think I did a good job of concentrating on the game plan and helping our team win tonight.”
With Wallace missing his first nine shots and Washington going to a 2-3 zone for much of the first half, and the early second, he Bears seemingly had no answer, offensively. They had to be able to shoot the Huskies out of the zone, and with Bird down, and Mathews coming into the game having hit 5-of-22 three-pointers over the last six games, that scenario just wasn’t looking too likely.
“We just had to have ball movement," Kravish said. "I think sometimes we tend to be stagnant, especially in this game when they brought out the zone on offense. They made a pretty significant push on us, and it took us awhile to start moving the ball and attacking the zone. It was really focusing on breaking it down, getting in the lane and making opportunities for our teammates.”
To break the zone, all it took was for Mathews to get on a roll. After going 4-of-8 from the field and 2-for-4 from three in the first half, Mathews hit four straight free throws to give Cal its first lead in 15:41, and with 13:54 left in the game, Mathews answered a jumper by Nigel Williams-Goss with his first three of the second half to break a 38-38 tie and give him 17 points.
With just over 12:30 to go, Mathews, with Darin Johnson closer to Mathews than his pre-game deodorant, crossed over the freshman guard out of Sacramento (Calif.) Sheldon and then hit a fadeaway jumper to give the Bears a 45-39 lead.
Mathews finished the game with four rebounds, one assist and one steal, but perhaps his biggist contribution other than three-pointers was his work at the free throw line, where he went 10-of-12, and that leads us into our next point.
"I thought we did a good job in the first half but in the second half we broke down quite a bit. Mathews got going. He had an outstanding game," Romar said.
2. A tactical mistake by Washington. Wallace finished the game shooting 4-for-20, but he still managed 19 points – third on the team behind Mathews’s 31 and David Kravish’s career-high-tying 21. How’d he get there? The charity stripe. Wallace – who came into the game shooting just 56.1% from the free throw line – went 10-of-12 from the line against the Huskies, with all of them coming in the second half. In fact, Wallace didn’t see the line until he’d already taken 16 shots, but more on that later.
Down the stretch, when Washington needed to foul to keep Cal close, they picked on both Wallace and Mathews. Yes, historically, Wallace is a poor free-throw shooter, but after he made his first six in a row, the Huskies kept sending him to the line. Mathews – who came in shooting 79.3% from the line – was also repeatedly sent there both off drives and off in-bounds plays. Chalk that up to coaching on Martin's part to get those players the ball when he knew Washington had to foul.
When the Huskies drew the lead down to five thanks to two free throws from Robert Upshaw, an awkwardly-driving Wallace picked up another foul by Jenard Jarreau off of a big Kingsley Okoroh screen and nailed both attempts to get the lead back to seven. Seconds later, after an Andrew Andrews airball, Mike Anderson fouled Wallace at midcourt, and, again, he hit both attempts, giving the Bears a 70-61 lead.
3. Can’t be a one-man show, or even a buddy act. Backtracking a bit to the first point, the fact that Mathews stepped up in the absence of Bird and the struggles of Wallace is certainly notable, but Cal doesn’t win with just Mathews, or even just Mathews and Wallace. The Bears need a threat down low, and on Thursday, they got it in Kravish.
The senior big man was as aggressive as he’s been all season, coming away with his second straight double-double (21 points, 10 rebounds) and shooting 10-of-16 from the field against perhaps one of the toughest big men in the conference in Upshaw.
To be able to perform against a talent like Upshaw, on a big stage (the Pac-12 conference opener) after two losses and a stretch where he had struggled to find confidence in his mid-range shot is a huge step for Kravish, who’d been a bit lost in the wilderness for some time, nothing resembling the player he’s been for Cal for the past three years. Since Bird went down against Fresno State – a major mile marker for this season, as it turns out – Kravish has shot 30-for-68 (44.1%) – far under his career average of 52.8% shooting from the field.
That’s not to say that Kravish still didn’t have problems with a larger, more physical presence in the paint than he’s used to, but it’s a marked improvement. The fact that Kravish did what he did on Thursday without much help down low -- Christian Behrens played just 16 minutes due to foul trouble – certainly has to be encouraging for Martin.
“I try to attack every game," said Kravish. "It’s the beginning of conference play, so everyone is hyped up – it’slike a fresh start to the season almost. We ended the non-conference part of the season kind of slow and kind of beat down, so the way we looked at it was we got to start 0-0 again. We came out and fought really hard and I think that was good for us.”
Kravish’s real impact, though, was felt in the first half, as Cal, shooting just 31.6% from the field, needed all the extra possessions it could get, and Kravish provided those. Of the Bears’ five offensive rebounds in the first half, three of those came from Kravish, and two of those came on missed free throws. Cal had nine second-chance points in the first half, keeping the hot-shooting Huskies (53.6%) within striking distance.
Kravish’s final flourish was a play drawn up off of an in-bound, with Kravish snaking through the defense to get open on the catch on a pass from Sam Singer, which Kraivsh promptly flushed to give Cal a 10-point lead.
Having two other scoring options besides Wallace – who found his preferred path to points (driving the paint) literally blocked by seven-foot Upshaw (who had five blocks) – is exactly what the Bears have struggled to find since Bird went down.
"My biggest concern going into a game like this was how we could score the ball," Martin said. "The thing about not having Jabari in a game like this with that level of talent and athleticism and length, it can be tough to score the ball. I thought we stayed aggressive. I thought Tyrone, who was 2-for-13 in the first half, was aggressive and stayed in attack mode. I thought David was engaged offensively from start to finish. He posted up, played on the perimeter, made plays off the bounce and got to the free throw line. Those were all the things we worked on with him in practice. I think Jordan shot the ball and shot it with confidence. His energy was good in practice the last two or three days. It carried over well for him into the game."
The fact that Cal was not only able to find those two extra options, but add to them to Wallace being mature enough to find another way to score (from the free-throw line) bodes very well for the Bears as they move into conference play, with their second contest set for Sunday at 3 p.m. at Haas Pavilion against Washington State.
4. Be pesky. Cal forced 12 turnovers and scored 15 points off of those turnovers, keeping the game closer than it had any right to be in the first half. The Huskies forced just four turnovers, and scored seven points off of them.
“One of the differences was that shots were falling. I think we’ve been good defensively," Martin said. "We have multiple guys that base their defense on whether their offense is flowing. That’s the difference. A telltale is if you have four turnovers in a game, it means that the ball is moving. You had 18 turnovers against Bakersfield, the ball stayed still. I’m just as mad about losing to Texas and Wisconsin, but things came to a head against Bakersfield. It’s hard to get guys understanding the attention to detail when you’re winning.
“When I talk to the players, I always say, ‘They came to see California play, not an individual. It’s a team game.’”
One of those turnovers early in the first half was forced by Roger Moute a Bidias, who, after poking the ball away, drew an intentional foul to go 1-of-2 at the free throw line. As an aside, with Wallace struggling to score on the ball, Moute a Bidias brought the ball up quite often, allowing both Mathews and Wallace to create off the ball. He played stout defense on Williams-Goss and was +13 – the second-highest +/- rating on the team – in 20 minutes.
“He’s the one that guards Tyrone [in practice] quite a bit to be physical with Tyrone and make him work," Martin said of Moute a Bidias. "I just talked to him about a week ago. He needs to be a defensive stopper. As his offense continues to grow and mature, he needs to be a guy we can count on to guard another guy’s best perimeter guys and take pride in doing it. I thought he did a great job. We had some breakdowns late in the game with 1:30 left, but for the most part he did a really good job using his length.”
Wallace forced another turnover with the Huskies up by eight in the first half, tipping the ball Singer on the right wing, who then threw the ball ahead to Wallace for the slam dunk.
“We didn’t get around some screens and we allowed them to turn the corner in some of their sets," Romar said. "They practice that every day and were able to be effective on more of those. Mathews hit some tough shots and they scored a third of their points off of offensive putbacks off of our turnovers."