Cal Basketball Starts Las Vegas Invitational With Prelim Tilt Against East Carolina

BERKELEY -- Cal not getting big-headed as the Bears kick off the first round of the Las Vegas Invitational against zone-heavy East Carolina.

BERKELEY -- With the first round of the Las Vegas Invitational tipping off tonight when No. 14 California (2-0) hosts East Carolina at 8 p.m. at Haas Pavilion (the Pirates' first ever trip to the Golden State), the Golden Bears are entering into a portion of the schedule that's a bit tougher than the season-opening tilts against Rice (97-65) and UC Santa Barbara (85-67).

The Bears aren't getting big heads just because of their early wins. They can't afford to. Games against San Diego State (a Tournament team last season) and West Virginia both loom on the horizon.

"First, we have to take care of business [Friday]," Wallace says. "I think we have to take care of business. We can't overlook or slip up. That's first. When we get to play some of the teams, the San Diego States, whoever the other teams in the tournament may be, I think we'll be ready. I think we'll be excited and extremely locked in. We'll take it game by game."

"I say all the time, and I'm serious when I say it: Every opponent is a test, because they all present something different," says head coach Cuonzo Martin.

One player who has gotten a big head -- quite literally, in fact -- has been point guard Sam Singer. He has had as many as two big-head posters in the front row each of the past two games -- courtesy of his brothers in Alpha Epsilon Pi, the international Jewish fraternity, which has made Singer an honorary brother of the Chi Alpha (XA) chapter at Berkeley.

"I see that him and [Stephen] Domingo have some fatheads, and I'm kind of jealous about that," Wallace laughs.

"We'll have to get him one," Singer responds.

"Aren't the seniors supposed to have fatheads?" Wallace idly asks. "They must be fan favorites. I've got to go out and do some more interacting with the fans or something. I've noticed it. It's funny looking over to the side. Hopefully, down the line, I'll get a fathead, too. I have to talk to Sam about that."

"We'll have to get him one," Singer says.

"I've got to join AEPi, I guess," Wallace smiles.

"They made it for Stephen and I, and they hold it up now, and it's become a pretty big hit," says Singer.

Singer has been a bit of a hit with Martin.

"It really helps, because Sam facilitates, and I think he has the chance to be an all-league defender," Martin says. "He pushes the ball, he's improved his confidence to be in attack mode, offensively. That's the biggest key, because he's worked extremely hard on his craft. He shoots a lot of shots, he's worked on his handle, attacking the rim. As long as he stays consistent with that, he'll be fine. That's a good one-two punch at that position. They both can play together, as well." Over the first two games, Singer has averaged 23.0 minutes on the floor, and though he's only scored seven points, he's tallied six assists and has played solid defense, while also facilitating the offense.

"Sam's a sound baskeball player," Martin says. "He understands angles. He knows where he's supposed to be on defense ... He takes care of the ball ... You need a guy like that, a very willing passer, really playing with a lot of confidence on both ends of the floor, and you need that. It's good to have a guy like that who comes off the bench. Now, you can take Tyrone off the ball, and he becomes a scoring wing."

Wallace, Martin says, still needs to work on defense, but he's never lacked confidence. He has, in the past, lacked certain elements to his game, but now, that game is much more complete, thanks to literally thousands upon thousands of shots.

"There were some weeks where we had to shoot a certain amount of shots -- what, 3,000 or something like that? -- and 1,500 free throws or 1,000, or something like that," says Wallace. "Those types of things, but I'm also always in the gym, and whenever I'm getting a workout in, I shoot and I go to do free throws, perfect makes, all the stuff just to improve my free throw shooting. I've gotten a lot of free throws up, and I've worked on my shot a lot.

I probably shot more balls this summer than I have, ever. Just a lot of repetition, and then, just confidence. You watch film, you notice shots that are there, that shots are open, so mid-range has been a big emphasis, just trying to get to a comfortable spot in the mid-range and knock that down. I think my confidence in my shot is through the roof right now, and I think if you believe you can make shots, the ball will go in a lot more. Just repetition and confidence."

By the Numbers

In the recruiting dog days of July, when the coaches are off campus, Martin leaves a detailed plan for what he wants his players to accomplish. That means shots, shots, shots, shots and more shots.

"When you're recruiting, and some time in the fall, we would do it, we can't be there as a coach, because we're recruiting, so we just chart different shots, so it'd be 2,000, this day you have to make this many shots at this particular position," says Martin. "What we do, we go off of charts. We play the percentage. For example, say Tyrone shot 600 shots last year. Most of his shots were from this spot. He likes shooting from this spot, but you ask him, he says he likes shooting from this [other] spot, where his percentages are probably lower at that spot. So, you help him understand: This is where you need to shoot most of your shots, but you still work on a lot of areas. It's a premium on where percentages say you're best at." The staff charts every shot taken during the season over the summer, they chart every shot taken during the summer, and in the fall -- where players shoot all their shots, their free throw shots and percentages.

"So now, when you see him shooting the ball at a certain spot, that's where he's best at," says Martin.

"When you see these guys, and see, well, he likes shooting the ball right there, the percentages say, he's probably best at that spot," says Martin. "Or, you see a guy like [Jordan] Mathews, you get the percentages, you've really improved over the spring up until now making plays off the dribble, so now he dribbles more and attacks the rim with his shot fake. You help the guys. When they see percentages and numbers and see video, they say, 'Got you, coach,' but it's amazing, in your mind, what you think is good. When you're allowed to see it, and you see the percentages, they say, 'OK, let's make the adjustment.'"

That kind of study has allowed Wallace to become the type of shooter he is this year, but it isn't just the imposed study requirements that have helped Wallace to evolve.

"The thing with Tyrone, when you show Tyrone last year, when he hit that rough patch, a six-game stretch where he really struggled, you really come back and watch film and look at the percentages, he was probably taking too many three's off the dribble," Martin says. "Settle down, more catch-and-shoot three's. Attack the rim. Set on your pull-ups around the rim, as opposed to leaning, and he got better at it. Now, he understands. You have to play the percentages, and all these guys, to their credit, they're really good at being students of the game, so to speak. Most guys will do it because coach says 'Do it,' but they see it, they understand it, and they want more video. It really helps."

The Evolution of Wallace

Though Wallace may not quite be big-head worthy in the stands (yet), on the court, he's averaging 22 points and 7.5 assists per game, and, despite having so much more talent around him this season, is scoring more than he has in his entire career.

"That's what I was trying to tell people all along," Wallace laughs. "It's hard being a No. 1 person on a team's scouting report, day in and day out, and where they gear up on you and key on you, as far as packing the paint and all those things. With added talent, it makes life easier. They've got to defend the guys we've got on the floor. That being said, you can't sag, can't help as much, so I see a lot of on-on-one, and I love it. It's fun to play like that, when they have to guard everybody. If they help, I have somebody open, so I'm able to dish. It's just reading the defense, making the right plays."

Though Wallace insists he hasn't changed his shot, or much about his game, Singer says the senior point guard has improved quite a bit from last season.

"I've had to guard [Ty] the last two years, and as hard as it was last year, now, his ability to make open shots has improved a lot, and obviously you're seeing the free throw line," says Singer. "If he's hitting his free throws, and able to hit from the outside, he's really hard to guard, because he penetrates so well, and can finish with either hand. I've seen a huge improvement, even from last year, even though he had a great year last year. He's made a great improvement this year, because less pressure is on him to force up shots, and he's able to just play the game, whether he's open, or he finds guys."

One reason why Wallace and Singer are both better is the fact that, simply put, they've got better options, namely freshmen Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown, and juniors Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews. Add to that the new point of emphasis on hand checking for officials this season, and Wallace's ability to drive, and make his free throws, and you have an offense tipped by a player that may be unguardable.

"I'll be able to answer that clearly after the season," Martin says. "I think he has a chance to do a lot of good things. The biggest thing is staying healthy, staying consistent, maintaing his level of confidence -- I don't think he'll lose that -- and just being able to see things. What happens is, teams will watch film, say, 'We figure we can stop him from doing this, so let's play the percentages,' and that means trapping him in ball screens, so he has to be able to give the ball up quicker. Make him go one way. Then, it's a matter of seeing it, and doing it, because he has the personnel around him, and just really doing it."

"I see flaws in my game, and I hate when people point out and say, 'He can't do this, he can't do that.' I use that as fuel." -- Tyrone Wallace

If Wallace isn't shooting and scoring, his teammates are. Brown is shooting 44% from the floor and averaging 15.5 points per game. Mathews is 5-of-11 from beyond the three-point arc. Rabb is 7-of-11 from the floor. Wallace's three-point shot -- long considered a weakness in his game -- is falling, as he's hit 2-of-5 from long distance -- a smaller sample size, to be sure, but that's because he's more efficient with when he shoots the three.

"The thing we talked about is, don't settle for the three-point shot," Martin says. "If a guy's standing three or four feet back, you still can drive the ball. Now, if he can't move his feet, he has to stop you with his hands, and that's a foul. So, don't just settle for the three, because it's there. What he's done a good job of with his three-point shot, his feet are square and he's knocking them down. He's not shooting to shoot, one bounce, shoot it, but really, 'My feet are set, and I play the percentages,' and the percentages say he's better when his feet are set."

Wallace idolizes Kobe Bryant, because of the 20-year NBA veteran's reputed work ethic, and Wallace has certainly put in the work, this offseason, since deciding to return for his senior season.

"I think it may have an underlying impact, but I think I work because I want to be the best player I can be," says Wallace. "I see flaws in my game, and I hate when people point out and say, 'He can't do this, he can't do that.' I use that as fuel, and that motivates me to get in the gym and get in the gym and correct things people think I can't do. People always tell you what you can't do, but as long as you believe you can do it, and you actively work in order to accomplish those things, it'll be fine. For me, it's all about trying to improve myself for the betterment of me and my team. I work hard because I want to get better."

There were those who criticized his free-throw shooting, and rightly so, after posting a 60.6 shooting percentage from the line last season. Now? He's 12-of-14 from the charity stripe. Next up was his three-point shooting, but Martin's regimen helped to fix that.

"I don't think I have to force," says Wallace. "I don't have to score the ball as much, but I'm able to get easy looks, so it allows me to be a lot more efficient. I think I've worked at the free-throw line, improved there, improved my shot, but I still take a lot of the same shots; it's just that the shots that sometimes I had to force last year, to try to score, I don't have to take those shots anymore."

Scouting East Carolina

As heavily as Martin and his staff rely on statistics and analytics, numbers and percentages, East Carolina relies on its zone defense. The first time Cal faced a zone this season, in the first week against Rice, they shot 7-of-14 -- good enough, right? But, the Bears -- who have so many perimeter weapons -- shot just 2-of-9 from three-point range against the zone. They'll have to do better than that if they want to break the Pirates' 2-2-1 zone.

"One of those teams, when you have the starting five that are between 6-5 and 6-8, 6-9, they can switch a lot of things, they'll zone, they have length, they have size, they'll pressure you, they'll 2-2-1 you," says Martin. "You have to go over the top and make plays, and if you can't consistently make perimeter shots, it'll be a long night for you."

The general lack of height for the Pirates -- they have just one player over 6-foot-9 (Deng Riak) and he's played a grand total of seven minutes in two games -- would perhaps suggest that the Bears play a generally smaller lineup, without a lot of minutes for seven-footers Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh. Not so, says Martin.

"I don't think so. Watching them on film, I think they have an opportunity to play more, and if it presents itself, I think Ivan has more of a chance to play the four, too, with one of those guys at the five, with the way it looks on film. We'll see how it goes in the game," he says.

Rabb playing the five against a smaller opponent could be a concern. He had issues staying aggressive against Oliver Carr of Carroll College in Cal's exhibition, and in high school, when facing smaller, less-talented post competition, Rabb tended to play down or play tentative. The past two games, Rabb's totalled six personal fouls, which have limited him to just 17.0 minutes per game on the floor.

"I don't know if he takes it for granted," Martin says. "I think what happens is, any hand check, when you bump, it's a foul, so, it's, 'Can I be as aggressive as I like to be on defense?' We try to call any hand check, any type of movement, any bump, impeding guys, moving, in practice, we try to call a foul every chance we get. It's not that he can't defend guys, but he doesn't want to sit on the bench. In these two games, he's done a great job when he's on the floor, but he gets in foul trouble, and that's the biggest key for him, is playing without fouling. Some of those fouls, his teammates put him in tough positions, and he did what he had to do."

Rabb, though, has proven immeasurably valuable on the offensive glass, where he leads the Bears with seven boards. East Carolina has pulled down 24 offensive rebounds in two games, compared with Cal's 20.

"On the offensive side of the ball, they have [Caleb] White, who's a really good lefty shooter, who can shoot the ball very well -- probably 55, 56 percent right now from three," says Martin. "They have guys that'll crash the glass. The biggest key with those guys, their initial offense, when you think the play is stopped, when that ball hits the rim, you'd better do a great job of boxing out and not getting in trouble." Top Stories