Tonight at Haas Pavilion, Richard Solomon walked out of the court with nine points, but also took the glass with him,”Richard was a beast on the boards,” said an elated Head Coach Mike Montgomery regarding his starting forward. And beast is probably the best way to describe Solomon whose sixteen rebounds, a career high, inspired the California Golden Bears to a resounding 77-50 win over the Denver Pioneers. The visiting Pioneers, who played their first game of the season at Berkeley Tuesday evening, could not stand up against a Bears team that outclassed them in every facet of their game, especially the big men Solomon and David Kravish.
“We can both get it going offensively and we love to block shots. When we get going we can be pretty good,” said a prudent Solomon. And good they were, albeit is was not pretty for Denver.
The Golden Bears started fast and furious against the visiting Pioneers, playing physical basketball. The Bears starting 5 consisted of Solomon, Kravish, Justin Cobbs, Tyrone Wallace, and freshman Jabari Bird. Bird, who went to high school in neighboring Richmond, got his first start in the Cal colors but was disappointing in his opening 12 minutes, shooting 0-2 from the field during the first half. Bird ended up with eight points on the night.
“Jabari is very, very capable and he’s going to be really good. And he probably was nervous a little bit. He wants to be really good, you’re just going to have to keep working and he’ll be fine. I’d like to see him rebound the ball…you want to get that nervousness out of your system, go get a board, go bang somebody,” reflected Montgomery on Bird’s average performance.
Tyrone Wallace, Cal’s sophomore guard, followed up his Pac-12 Player of the Week performance with another team leading effort. The dynamic playmaker eased to a 16 point, 3 rebounds, three steals, and one assist tonight for the Golden Bears.
“He’s a big strong guard and if we move the ball so you’re not just starting him at point of attack, mano a mano, and you’re catching the ball while a guys on the run, he’ll get to the basket. He’s done a nice job, he’s been very good so far,” said Montgomery praising his starting guard.
The Bears used the first 20 minutes exhibiting sound team basketball, particularly on the defense. The Bears kept the pioneers out of the paint, for much of the first period, almost daring them to shoot from outside. It was a threat that the visiting team seemingly did not want to take. The result? The Pioneers broke the double digit barrier when the clock read 5:51, some 15 minutes after the opening tip off. In fact before that milestone in mediocrity, the Pioneers had more fouls than points, 8 to 5. Needless to say, Cal got to the line often in the first half, shooting 62% (8-13) from behind the line.
The transition game we witnessed against Coppin State was still present, albeit less splashy and more sloppy. The Bears only scored one three pointer and lost the ball on far too many occasions. But despite Kravish turning the ball over due to wayward passing, Coach Montgomery enjoyed the team’s attacking mindset, “We did a pretty good job at point of attack and creating foul situations. 25 foul shots, which is good. We only took 7 threes, so we didn’t fall prey to just try and shoot it first time, we took it at the basket and did a pretty good job that way,” exclaimed Montgomery after the game.
The Bears went into the locker room ahead, 35-18.
The threes seemed to fall more for the visiting Pioneers after the break, but eventually Cal swept aside the visitors and dominated the floor, so much so that Cal’s bench was able to play the remaining seven minutes of the game. Cal was up by 19 at that point. Justin Cobbs, who did a great job at shutting down Denver’s best shooter, Brett Olson, played a sound 30 minutes on the evening scoring 10 points and leading the team in assists with four. But Cobbs’ biggest moment was a cause of concern.
About midway through the second half, Cobbs went to swat a layup but landed poorly, tangled with a Pioneer. Cobbs then slid to the plush seats right behind the baseline and after a couple minutes of uncertainty, rose with the help of his training staff and walked away gingerly to the locker room.
After the game, Richard Solomon was quick to ease the speculation of Cobbs, “He should be fine.” His head coach followed up on that news reiterating the good news with sharp wit, “I looked at the knee and it was still there,” Montgomery said sarcastically. “He came down awkwardly and it hurt, so we put ice on it.”
Despite the nervous moment, Cobbs is expected to play on Friday against Oakland.
Cal’s bench players, guys like Kameron Rooks and Jeff Powers, sealed the blowout in the final minutes ensuring the Bears second victory on the season. Tuesday night’s victory was an easy one for the Golden Bears and one that showcased the team’s ability to wear down an opponent in multiple aspects.
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