The Cal Golden Bears Men’s Basketball team opened their 2013 season Friday night against the visiting Coppin State Eagles and provided the home fans a comfortable, highlight packed 83-64 victory. Silky threes, thunderous dunks, and gritty play were on display inside Haas Pavilion Friday night, from a Cal team that looks to hold their weight amid a deep Pac-12 conference and earn another birth to the Big Dance under head coach, Mike Montgomery.
About as rambunctious as the Straw Hat band was the game’s opening minutes, which began in a frenzy that saw both teams taking the other to task from the three point line; but it was Cal who ended up winning that shootout emphatically in the first 20 minutes. In fact, the first half would end with the Bears unleashing a hurricane from behind the arc on the visiting Eagles, knocking down eight from behind the arc. The Bears would add one more in the second half and finish 9-26 from downtown. Although that percentage isn’t the most appealing, it solidified a fast paced tempo from the Bears. The Bears’ transition game was remarkable at times as well as a source of merriment for new Golden Bear and top recruit, Jabari Bird, “When we get into transition, I think we can be are a dangerous team. I feel like I strive in that transition, I make plays for my teammates and myself.” And make plays is exactly what the debutant did tonight with 14 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. The game’s leading scorer with 20, Tyrone Wallace also chimed in on the Bears’ quick offense, “We were definitely out on the break a lot and that when guys like me and Jabari get to really play.”
And that is not to say that the defensive effort was non existent, the Bears stole the ball four times, blocked eight shots shots, and crashed the board on defense accumulating 37 out of the team’s 51. Ricky Kreklow, was extremely active in this regard after tip off, snatching four rebounds in the first period. Although he cooled down in the second period, it was an encouraging sign from Kerklow who played only nine games last year because of a foot injury. “It’s taken Ricky a year and half, so thats plenty long to be out. Ricky’s a great stabilizing influence. He and (David) Kravish were elected co captains,” exclaimed Montgomery.
While the fist half warranted a poncho from all the threes, the second required a kevlar vest, as the Bears went into the paint with brute force, throwing down the hammer and getting to the line when Coppin State tried to deny their efforts. Again there was the transition, but with more of an emphasis to go inside and grind out the buckets. Wallace attributed the change in emphasis to simply what the Eagles were showing them, “I think we just went with the flow of the game. First half, the were sagging back, clogging the paint and so we were able to get open shots and we knocked them down. And so in the second half I felt like they were more aware of the three point line and they came out and that gave us the opportunity to drive to the hole and get offensive rebounds and all that extra stuff that helped us score in the paint.”
Despite this, coach Montgomery saw some flaws sighting a lapse of attention on defense and the overall quality of rebounds. Make no mistake about it, the Bears crashed the glass, out rebounding the Eagles 51 to 37, but it was the way it was obtained that troubled Montgomery a bit, “We didn’t dominate on the boards as I think we might, we need to establish our inside game more. I don’t think we rebounded the ball as cleanly as we might have expected given the fact that they (Coppin State) were a little undersized.”
“We’re going to have to be patient, we’re trying to work five freshman into the lineup. They’re going to make mistakes.”
Despite those mishaps, this young Golden Bears side which has a plethora of athletic guards did succeed at was an impressive 23-7 assist to turnover ratio. When the Bears can distribute the ball so effectively, particularly on the break, opposing teams are going to have a hard time at slowing them down.
Denver will be the next university to assume that challenge this coming Tuesday night in Berkeley. And while this game was scrappy at times and Denver brings a rather foreign challenge, the Bears should have enough explosiveness to improve to 2-0 on the year.
Follow Jeremy on twitter @jermg11