There wasn't much more that the California men's basketball team could have done to be more dominant in its Pac-12-openning 79-65 win over visiting Colorado, as four Bears tallied double figures, Jordan Mathews rained down three pointers (tying his season-best 22 points to lead all scorers), freshman Jaylen Brown (17 points, 11 rebounds_ recorded his third double-double of the season, and little-used Kingsley Okoroh set a career high with 10 points (Okoroh had scored just five points all season).
“King did a great job tonight," Mathews said. "He does it every day in practice. We knew he would carry it over to a game eventually.”
Cal (11-3, 1-0 in Pac-12) started the game off on a 10-0 run, continuing to display one of the better defenses in the conference against Colorado (11-4, 0-1), which ranked third in the league in scoring offense (83.1 ppg coming in to Friday).
“I knew coming into this game that this was going to be a game about toughness," said Buffaloes coach Tad Boyle. "We tried to let our guys know it was going to be like a Colorado State game, that environment that has a lot of emotion. We got beat in every phase of the game, especially the rebounding phase, and we weren’t very good offensively or defensively. We gave up 12 layups and only had six assists, and when the ball sticks like that in our offense we are just not very good. Cal is a good team, and they deserved to win this game. We had trouble scoring against their size, and while it was something we tried to work on, we don’t have seven-foot guys to practice against.”
Colorado came into the game averaging 8.9 three-point field goals made per game, and the Bears held them to one-third that total, limiting freshman Dominique Collier (third in the Pac-12 with a 48.7% shooting mark from beyond the arc) to just one three-pointer (he missed), and holding George King (owner of a 46.0% shooting clip from three-point land) to just three attempts, and one make.
In fact, Colorado started the game on an 0-for-9 streak from the field, scoring their first points on a mid-post jumper from Tory Miller with 8:03 gone in the first half. The Buffaloes finished the game 21-of-66 (31.8%) from the field, while Cal shot 27-of-52 (51.9%), 6-of-19 from three-point range and 19-of-25 from the free-throw line, with senior point guard Tyrone Wallace hitting 6-of-8.
“We’re getting there," head coach Cuonzo Martin said of Cal's defense. "We have to get to 40 minutes. I think we were at about 34 minutes tonight. You can’t look at the clock and see you’re up by 16, 17, 18. You have to continue to defend every possession. Their three-pointers were a result of our breakdowns.”
The Bears have now held four straight opponents to under 40% shooting, and have now turned the trick 10 times this season.
Cal was particularly effective in the paint, scoring 36 points to the Buffaloes' 30, and out-rebounding Colorado 39-38, though the Bears did allow 17 offensvie rebounds, and 18 second-chance points.
A large part -- no pun intended -- of the post presence was Okoroh, who pulled down five rebounds -- third on the team behind Wallace (7) and Brown. Wallace also tallied 16 points, moving up to 13th on Cal's all-time scoring list, with 1,414 points.
Kameron Rooks was in foul trouble for much of the night, and with 5:09 to go, he fouled out. Because of his issues, Okoroh was that much more important, playing a season-high 22 minutes and finishing at a +23 on the +/- board.
“I’ve always had confidence," Okoroh said. "Coach Martin always has confidence in me. Today, he finally said I can do it. I hope to keep doing it."
“He scored double figures for the first time tonight against the Buffs, and that really describes our defensive play tonight," said Boyle. "It wasn’t only on our bigs, but failures in our rotations and offensive rebounds. We made their (Cal)’s bigs look better than they played all year.”
But, and 3:42 to go, Okoroh fouled out, as well. Freshman Ivan Rabb ten exited with his fifth foul with 1:43 to go. He finished with just six points -- his lowest total of the year -- with three rebounds -- tied for a season-low.
“I saw it coming," Martin said of Okoroh's performance. "You can see it in practice. He has size and is tough to shoot over, and you can’t get around him. He makes you work to get shots. I’m not surprised by his overall effort. Ten points is good for him."
Entering the game with 71 blocks this season, the Bears notched seven against Colorado, led by four from Okoroh, tying his career high. He has now recorded eight blocks in his last two games.
“If he’s not aggressive, I’ll take him back right out," Martin said of his 7-foot-2 sophomore. "You don’t worry about fouls. You can play the game without fouling.”
Rabb played for just four minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, and both Mathews and Jabari Bird were 1-or-8 from the floor, despite shooting 28-of-59 (47.5%) from three-point range in Cal's last five games. That said, the Bears were still up by 18, thanks to a stifling defense that held Colorado to just 7-of-29 from the floor, with 6-foot-10 Josh Scott going 2-of-10.
“If we defend, it doesn’t matter who is on the floor,” said Martin, who saw Okoroh, Rabb and Rooks foul out. “We have some guys who are good basketball players and some score better than others. But if we defend at a high level, it doesn’t matter who is on the floor. If they are struggling to get a shot off or even a pass every time down the floor, then you’ve done your job.”
Because of those fouls, Scott made six trips to the free-throw line in the first half, hitting all half-dozen tries for 10 points at the break. He finished with a team-high 16.
“It’s not easy to defend a guy like Josh one-on-one," Martin said. "When you can defend him one on one, you don’t have to double the post as much. If you’re consistently having to double the post, it could be a long night. I thought we did a good job on him.”
A block by Rooks and a big dunk by Rabb thanks to the alley-oop from Mathews started the second half for the Bears, and after Scott cut the lead to 13 at 17:28, Mathews got going. The junior sharpshooter nailed a three ball at 17:07 off a pass from Sam Singer, who then fed Rabb for a jumper to get the lead up to 18. With 14:54 left, Mathews hit his second straight three-point attempt, and just over two minutes later, he hit his third in a row, upping the lead to 19.
“We did a good job in the first half, and we were there contesting shots," Boyle said. "But when you let a shooter like him get one shot going, he starts making tougher ones. We knew the scouting report going in, and we didn’t do a good job executing our game plan.”
A lay-up and the and-one by Brown answered a three by another of Colorado's better long-distance shooters in Josh Fortune, and then Mathews countered a jumper by Wesley Gordon with his fourth straight trey. Mathews put the finishing touches on his run with his fifth straight sniper shot from beyond the arc with 8:38 to go. Mathews scored 16 points in a matter of 8:29.
“I didn’t follow through in the first half," Mathews said. "My first look, I leaned back and moved my hand to the side. I have to follow through. My teammates made great passes and I was able to knock them down.”