BERKELEY -- California endured the same struggles it has in its two losses this season on Wednesday against Incarnate Word, barely escaping with a 74-62 win while struggling at the free throw line (3-of-7 at the half), from three against the zone (including an 0-for-5 stretch), getting the ball out in transition and keeping its big men on the floor.
The Bears (7-2) turned the ball over a season-high 19 times (with 16 assists) including three during a five-minute span in the second half, and went 12-of-22 from the free-throw line.
"You can't have 19 turnovers and then shoot 12-of-22 from the line," head coach Cuonzo Martin said.
These are struggles Cal has had all year, and they're not improving. The Bears have had 10 or more turnovers in six out of nine games this season.
"We've just got to lock in as a team," said wing Jabari Bird. "19 turnovers against anybody is horrible, especially a team like this. Give them credit, they made plays on the defensive end, but a lot of it was just us not being strong. We have to fix that."
"I don't know what it is, to be honest. I know it needs to stop. We need to go out there and play, and be the team we know we can be. We have so many talented guys on the floor at all times; there's no reason for us to be struggling against teams. Being tied at halftime, we should be getting out on the break, having fun and getting big leads, blowing teams out, but we're not. We've just got to find a way to get back to that." -- Jabari Bird
Bird's assessment, though, could best be summed up in perhaps his quote of the night: "We slept on them."
"We've got to grow up," said freshman Ivan Rabb, who had his third double-double of the season, "and take care of the ball,"
After starting in man, Incarnate Word switched to zone, and, frustrating the Bears at every turn, went on a 14-3 run in the first half. That run, paradoxically, was with Rabb on the floor, and not in foul trouble. Early on, the Bears forced the ball in to Rabb in the paint against the zone, go a bit of success, and Bird also put the ball on the floor to split the zone, but with Cal then choosing to try and shoot the Cardinals out of the zone, Rabb was essentially a null force.
"We go over the zone in practice, and we do fine against it. When we get into games, we're just thinking too much, we get kind of stagnant," Bird said. "We need to have some flow to our offense, play with some swag, shoot if they hit shots. Guys who flash, make plays in the middle of the zone. We need to get the ball to the middle more often. We keep playing from the top, and it's kind of hard trying to shoot over the top of them."
"The guys tonight did a really good job of making a conscious effort of throwing the ball inside. He needs to learn how to post up against the zone," Martin said. "More than anything, it's being strong around the rim, posting deep, posting off the block and backing guys down."
Rabb says he's capable of doing more on offense, but it's not because his teammates are looking for him.
"At the end of the day, I have to do things to position myself to get baskets, like today, I got a few offensive rebounds, and I got stripped. That's on me," Rabb said. "I got stripped twice. That's four points on the board that I need to finish."
Rabb then was called for a foul with 6:41 left, a bad foul trying to block a player that had already beat him on the back door. That ill-advised foul made his second foul – one and a half minutes later – that much worse, as he was taken off the floor in favor of Kameron Rooks.
Rooks had started the game on a tear, with three points and two offensive rebounds in his first few minutes on the floor, but seven seconds after he re-entered the game, he was called for his second foul, and then he promptly took a seat.
In total, Cal’s big men -- Rabb, Kingsley Okoroh and Rooks -- were on the floor for 22 minutes combined in the first half, and the Bears held just a 12-6 advantage on points in the paint, despite holding a sizeable size advantage over Incarnate Word.
At the half, Rabb had four rebounds, while point guard Tyrone Wallace had five. The last of Rabb’s rebounds, though, came with 13:26 to go before the break. After that rebound, the Cardinals went on a 19-8 run.
"We played well in spurts, we did better in the second half, moving the ball, but we missed threes in the first half and guys got a little hesitant," Martin said. "We started the second half off pressing, and that gave our guys a little more energy. Now, we've got to be strong with the basketball."
A three-pointer by Jordan Mathews helped break the spell, and a three-pointer by Bird on the Bears’ last possession of the half tied the game at 31.
"We're better than that," Bird said. "We shouldn't be tied with a team like that at half."
Out of the break, the Bears worked the transition game, going on a 8-2 run with two thunderous dunks on the break by freshman Jaylen Brown, and another three by Bird, who finished with a team-high 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
"He plays with a lot of energy, a lot of passion, and he's used to having the ball in his hands," Martin said of Brown. "He's a very willing passer. I just talked to him about staying aggressive. His aggression is shooting the ball, and also attacking."
Brown finished with four fouls, again, playing out of control at times and turning the ball over twice. He's now had four or more fouls in five straight games.
Even when the Cardinals switched off of the 2-3 zone in the second half, the Bears still put up jumpers (on three of their next five shots).
Martin did not think his team shot too many threes. The bears went 8-of-23.
"Man-to-man, we're fine, but against the zone, we get stagnant," Martin said. "You've got to be aggressive and post up."
Then, came the wasted possessions. Three turnovers and one bad shot on four straight possessions midway through the second half allowed Incarnate Word to keep things close. After a jumper and the and-one by Rabb got the lead back to seven. Still, though, three turnovers and a missed three pointer on successive possessions allowed the Cardinals to close the lead to four.
Bird and Wallace then led a 10-2 run through the end of the game that sealed the win. Rabb finished well in the second half, with seven rebounds to move his total to 11. His 12 points gave him his third double-double of the season. He was one of five Bears in double figures, with Wallace (14), Bird, Mathews (12 on 3-of-9 shooting) and Brown (13 on 5-of-13 shooting).
"We had some looks, Jabari had two or three good looks that didn't fall, but youv'e got to make shots," Martin said. "They made some three-point shots, and bogged us down. Our guys need to have a conscious effort to pound the ball inside. In the first half, we were forcing it. We've got to do a better job of moving the ball, and then attacking."
On Saturday, Cal will square off with an undefeated Saint Mary's team that's already beaten Stanford this season.
"Our guys will be ready to play," Martin said. "Watching them from afar, you have multiple guys shooting 40-plus-percent from three."