Grambling started the game with two tactics that are guaranteed to be can't miss video viewing for future Bear opponents. A full court press by the Tigers proved to be awfully effective in forcing Bear turnovers early in the game, continuing a trend of sloppy ball handling for Cal this season. Even when the Bears were able to break the press they settled for quick perimeter jumpers in lieu of taking the ball inside where Cal held a huge size advantage. When Grambling couldn't press, they went to the 5 on 4 defense that the Bears have started to see more and more of as the season has progressed. Leaving Cal PG AJ Diggs virtually unguarded, Grambling was able to prevent the Bears from exercising their talent and size advantages on the offensive end of the court. Compound this challenge with the fact the Bears seemed more focused on sharpening their masonry skills than hitting perimeter shots, and Grambling was able to stay close and eventually take a six point lead with six minutes to play in the first half. To put this in perspective, this is a Grambling team whose likely goal coming into the game was to stay within 40 of Cal.
Brian Wethers proved to be the calm in the midst of the storm throughout the first half, showing off improved ball handling skills in breaking the press and finding the open man. His "off the glass" pull up jumpers and strong defense allowed the Bears to storm back and take the lead going into the second half. The second half turned out to be the game we had expected to see from the get go. Grambling was unable to get consistent good looks on offense, Cal owned the glass while becoming more patient on offense. The result was a 29 point lead with over 7 minutes left in the game. Although the Bears were never really able to find their touch from the outside, going 7 for 36 from behind the arc, they dominated inside. Amit Tamir had a solid all around game, finishing with 13 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and four steals. Joe Shipp weathered a cold shooting night, but still managed to lead the team in scoring and rebounding with 15 and 7 respectively.
In what may be a sign of things to come, Richard Midgley played the majority of minutes at the point for Cal and though he did struggle early against the press, he acquitted himself with what was likely his best all around game of the year. Midgley matched Wethers for the team lead in assists and Shipp for high mark on the boards with 7 to go along with ten points. Diggs struggled from the floor, finishing one for seven, but more importantly let his offensive woes effect him on the defensive end. Diggs finished with one steal and until the second half seemed to lack the defensive intensity of which we have all grown so fond. As SacBear foresaw, David Paris got some significant clock last night and used that opportunity to show off some nifty low post moves. Looking like a Baby Shaq down low, Paris hit 3 nice buckets inside to go along with an 0 for 4 from the FT line.
Tonight should be interesting as Louisiana-Lafayette is a significant upgrade in talent over Grambling and they are much more adept at utilizing full court pressure. The Bears will need to be stronger with the ball and smarter on offense once they break the press in order to notch another Golden Bear Classic Championship.