Against the visiting Oakland Golden Grizzlies, the California Golden Bears played sloppy but had a Bird on their side just waiting to break free.
“I didn’t think I played that well the previous game. I really looked to be aggressive tonight and try to make plays for my team,” said Bird cooly after his dynamic night.
Jabari Bird, the Bears top recruit, put in a 24 point performance and was the main contributor toward Cal overturning a 30-24 halftime deficit. Bird had the best outing of his young career, and Richard Solomon followed up his 16 rebound domination against Denver,f with 17 boards. Almost as close as these two school’s namesake, the game’s conclusion was knotted up until Cal and Bird, did just enough to edge out a four point, 64-60 victory.
The Golden Bears were frustrated and overworked in the first half against an Oakland team that was bolstered by Travis Bader. Bader, who is probably one of the best 3-point shooters in the country that you have never heard of, made sure everyone inside Haas Pavilion remembered his name with a 12 point performance in the first half.
“He can really shoot the ball, he averaged 22 last year,” Cal Head Coach Mike Montgomery said about Bader.
He knocked down two threes but the one’s really being knocked down early, were the hosting Bears.
Mike Montgomery summed it up expertly after the final score, “Anything less than your best is not good enough.”
“We were fortunate. I don’t think it is any question that Oakland played harder than we did. We were late to loose balls, we weren’t very attentive to details and got ourselves in trouble. We’re very, very fortunate to get out with a win.”
In the opening 20 minutes, the Bears turned the ball over nine times and went 7-21 from the field. What made matters worse was the team’s effort from free throws, a palpable 53%.
With these statistics, it came as no surprise that the Bears came close to losing. The execution from the Bears was lacking in the first half greatly. There was the two missed alley oop dunks from Richard Solomon and of course the less than desired play from Justin Cobbs, “He had a little fumble-itis and that slowed our tempo down a little bit,” Montgomery explained reluctantly. The Senior, who possesses the best dribbling and passing ability on the team, turned the ball over twice and made way for Sam Singer to play 8 first half minutes.
Singer found a little bit of a groove since coming on for Cobbs, he was running the point with gritty determination, drawing fouls and had 4 points. But he was not without his flaws, missed free throws, turned the ball over, and even had the audacity to attempt a three from miles away with plenty of time on the clock. His shot caught nothing but air.
Credit to the Grizzlies for frustrating the Bears immensely on defense, playing zone with a gang like mentality, sending multiple bodies when the Bears entered the paint and stifling their perimeter game, “It’s really hard to penetrate. It’s a 1-1-3 and I ran it for three years. It’s a different zone,” Montgomery explained.
Justin Cobbs chimed in on Oakland’s zone defense, “They were active in the zone, covering the guys they need to cover, and stopping guys from getting shots. I give credit to them they played well and we didn’t come out with enough intensity. We learned our lesson today.”
The Bears were able learn during halftime and overturn a six point deficit by playing much harder than the previous 20 minutes. That is not to say that Oakland went away though, the Grizzlies matched their intensity stride for stride.
Despite being more aggressive, some of the miscues were still prevalent from the Bears. Missed shots from the field and yet again from the free throw line, reared their ugly heads, but only momentarily.
Someone forgot to tell Jabari Bird that Oakland was besting the Bears because he came out swinging in the second half, knocking down four three pointers and swinging the momentum in Cal’s favor.
Justin Cobbs spoke highly of his teammate’s stellar performance, which came as no surprise to him, “It’s just Jabari. Thats the type of player he is. Big time players make big time plays and thats what Jabari did tonight and I’m just proud he is on our team.”
Towards the tail end of the game, things started to get hectic. The Bears were doing a better job at penetrating the paint and going to to the line. Lloyd Neely II, starting guard for the Grizzlies left the game with five fouls with just five minutes left in the ball game. Cal eventually improved their free throw percentage to 65%.
Cal then took Oakland by the sword down the stretch, crashing the boards, playing solid defense, and hit clutch shots; be it from Bird behind the arc or Cobbs from the line.
“More than anything else it was the notion that we weren’t going to have to pay attention and we can still win. And that is a really bad way to approach any game on our schedule and we are simply not good enough to go into any game and have that kind of mental approach,” concluded a frustrated Montgomery.
It was a sloppy game tonight for the Bears, but they got the victory and have a freshman, who can truly ignite the crowd and a Cal comeback.
Follow Jeremy on twitter @jermg11