Stan Szeto / USA TODAY Sports

ANALYSIS: Cal can't rely on

Breaking down the numbers from Cal's 77-66 win over Colorado on Sunday, as some unusual contributors help the Bears down the stretch.

California held off a late charge by Colorado on Sunday, seeing a 23-point lead shrink to as small as five, despite the fact that the Buffaloes were without leading shot-blocker Wesley Gordon (1.7 blocks per game) and leading scorer Xavier Johnson (15.2 ppg). 

The Bears (17-6, 8-3 in Pac-12) came away with the 77-66 win, but they had to do it with a hobbled Kingsley Okoroh and an ineffectual Ivan Rabb.

After the first possession, Colorado (13-11, 3-8) went to a zone defense for the rest of the first half, and though Cal missed its first three three-pointers, the Bears went 5-of-7 from three and 8-of-12 from the field from 11:15 to 6:23 in the first half to fuel a 19-0 run. Three of those three-pointers came from freshman Charlie Moore, who scored 15 of his 17 points before halftime.

Cal came into the game shooting just 34% from three, 218th out of 351 Division I teams, but thanks to the 19-0 run -- which saw, at one point, five straight possessions end in three-pointers -- Cal went 11-of-29 from beyond the arc -- more three-point attempts than the Bears had jacked up in any game save for the opener against South Dakota State (32), and one fewer make than the Bears' season high of 12, also against South Dakota State.

More in my recap for the San Francisco Chronicle.

For now, let's take a look at the three big takeaways from Sunday's game.

The first sign of trouble: Defensive laxity? Not quite.

The Buffaloes closed to within seven with 16:12 to go in the second half, as the Bears went 1-of-5 from the field over the first four minutes, and Colorado went 4-of-6 from the field -- all four of those makes coming from guard Derrick White. A three by Cal senior Stephen Domingo – who had missed eight straight three’s going back to Jan. 14 against Washington State  – helped break the spell, but more on that later.

Senior guard Grant Mullins attributed the tightening of the game to Colorado's three-point shooting.

"They're just a really talented team, and they shoot it really well from the three-point line, so we knew that a big lead could go away quickly if we let up," Mullins said. "They hit a few shots, got a few and-ones, so we just had to stay locked in, defensively."

While White -- who scored a game-high 25 points -- went 3-of-9 from beyond the arc, the Buffaloes actually went 3-of-11 from three-point land after halftime, worse than their 3-for-10 mark in the first half. Beyond that, Colorado sho 12-of-34 in the second half, worse than their 9-for-23 mark before intermission.

While the Buffaloes shot 35.3% from the field in the second half (and 27.3% from three), Cal shot 10-of-25 from the field after the break (40.0%) and 2-for-7 from three (28.6%). Here's where Colorado got back into the game: turnovers. The Bears turned the ball over on 20.6% of their second-half possessions, compared to 12.9% of their possessions in the first half.

Cal is ranked 302nd in the nation in pace, meaning that they simply don't move the ball up and down well enough to generate more possessions, and therefore scoring opportunities, to make up for miscues like turnovers. It wasn't so much that Colorado was scoring, but that the Bears weren't, and that they threw away seven opportunities in the second half, while the Buffaloes only had two turnovers, and swiped four steals, after the break. Cal, on the other hand, didn't tally any steals after halftime.

Another factor: Cal was dependent on the three ball to a degree they haven't been all season, and when one of your best shooters -- Mullins -- goes 3-of-14 from the field, and 2-of-9 from beyond the arc, and when another top sniper -- Jabari Bird -- goes 4-for-11 from the field (though 2-of-5 from three isn't bad), it's fairly surprising that the Bears were able to hold off the Buffaloes.

Yet another concern with the offense: Ivan Rabb was painfully quiet. His 10 shots on the night (and a barely-noticeable 11-point, 11-rebound not only not doubled at least three times -- including once where he wasn't covered at all due to the Buffaloes zone -- and got off just three shots in the second half, it's clear that the nuts and bolts of the offense need to be tightened. Martin himself said Cal is at its best when going to Rabb down low, not relying on the three ball, and while the Bears were able to escape the late charge by Colorado, they won't be able to be that loose on offense against No. 9 Arizona or suddenly-scary Arizona State this coming weekend. The Sun Devils were smoked by Washington State, 91-83, but came up just one point short against No. 5 Oregon and ran Oregon State off the court, 81-68.

Moore Experience

While Cal did have 11 turnovers on the game, three of those were by Moore, but he also had a game-high eight assists. After two games of Pac-12 play, Moore had 47 turnovers and 48 assists. Since then, he's had 27 turnovers and 39 assists, and over the last three games, he's had 23 helpers to nine turnovers. "We want to continue to get those turnovers down," said head coach Cuonzo Martin. "He's doing a great job, just really settling down. I think what helps [is] our guards being shot-ready. Keeping the ball in Charlie's hands, and keeping balls alive -- I think, earlier, he was making plays and giving the ball up quickly, as opposed to keeping the ball alive, probing the defense and making plays that way. Our guards are doing a great job of continually moving to be in position to receive balls. Then, when you have your bigs corralling, diving to the rim and making plays, it's tough. We've just got to continue doing a better job of moving, to allow him to make plays."

Moore kicked things off with an alley-oop to Rabb in the early goings, and hit two threes to give the Bears a 10-7 lead. As the Bears got rolling on their 19-0 run, Moore swiped the ball from guard Thomas Akyazili, going coast-to-coast and spinning in the paint to avoid a defender, but missing the lay-up try. Rabb, however, was there to clean things up with a dunk, giving the Bears a 17-12 lead with 10:58 to go.

"I definitely feel comfortable," Moore said. "Teammates are getting in the right spots, [I] feel like I have more chemistry with the teammates now, I know where to find them, I know where they're good at to finish around the basket. It's me coming into every game, focused. I think I've been feeling more comfortable."

Now, Moore has to extend his performance for the full 40 minutes; he scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half, and dished out six of his eight assists before the break. He had two points, two assists and two turnovers in 14 minutes after halftime. He won't have either Sam Singer (4-of-7 for 9 points, 2 assists) and Mullins (16 points on 3-of-14 shooting, 3 assists) after this year.

"[We were] penetrating the gap, and looking for the kick-out, the bigs, they were sagging in, so the kick-outs were wide open," Moore said. "I got complete confidence in the shooters -- Bird and Grant and 'Mingo -- so I'll kick it out to them, and they'll knock it down."

Moore and the Bears relied on the drive-and-kick in the first half, and because of Colorado's switch to man in the second half, those shots weren't open (22 three-point shots in the first half, versus seven in the second), but Moore does need to find other ways to create of the dribble, and draw more defenders, because they won't be flocking to Rabb next year, since he will in all likelihood be leaving for the NBA.

Back to Domingo

The transfer from Georgetown hasn't had a senior season to remember. Before Sunday afternoon, he'd been shooting 25.9% from inside the three-point arc, and 14.6% from outside. His reputation coming out of high school was that of an elite shooter, but going back to Jan. 14 against Washington State, he'd missed eight straight attempts from three-point land. Until, that is, he hit that three to halt Colorado's run in the second half. 

With 4:04 left, and the Buffaloes once again with in seven points, Domingo set up for a corner three in front of his own bench, and was all but tackled by George King. He hit two of three from the free throw line. Center Kameron Rooks then got in on the action by taking a foul from Tory Miller and hit one of two at the line to give Cal an 11-point lead. Rooks, who's still working his way back into shape after knee surgery put him on the shelf for 10 games, scored nine points in 18 minutes on 4-of-5 shooting, pulling down six rebounds.

"I expect those guys to perform," Martin said. "Domingo, in my opinion, is a better shooter than his percentages, especially in practice. I see a lot of those shots going down. Now, it's a continuation of translating to game situations, because he puts the time into it."

Combined, Rooks, Domingo and Singer were averaging a combined 11.2 points per game coming into Sunday. They combined to score 23 against the Buffaloes.

"Sam's a guy who's a better player, as far as scoring, than you see, oftentimes. I just think Sam, by nature, would rather make passes and make plays," Martin said.  "I thought they did a great job. I think we might have scored five possessions in a row with Domingo, Sam, Kameron. Kameron's a guy, if he's healthy, he's a better scorer. I think if Kameron is healthy, and he's getting in there, he's a double-figure scorer. He's just getting his body more conditioned. He's getting there. With Domingo making a shot, he's a guy who spends a lot of time working on his shot, and we expect him to make those shots. He made it tonight. He made two free throws. We expect those guys to play and be very effective, but it helps us, just because of the way teams defend Ivan. I didn't think Ivan had one of his better games tonight. The way teams defend Ivan, corral Ivan, make it hard on him, you have to be able to step it up a a ballplayer." Top Stories