After sweeping the Washington schools, Cal returned home this past week to take on UCLA and USC, two schools heading in complete opposite directions. The Bruins came into Haas Pavilion hot and on the heels of Pac-12 leaders Arizona while their Southern California nemesis, the USC Trojans, stumbled into Berkeley as the worst team in the conference.
Last Wednesday night against the Bruins, the Golden Bears were dominated and outplayed by the visitors, losing by twenty. The final score was 86-66.
The Bears are notoriously slow starters and were exposed for the vast majority of 40 minutes against Jordan Adams (28 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists) and the visiting Bruins. Every time Cal managed to play with positivity, UCLA would sink a big bucket or go on a lead extending run of their own. In fact, the Bruins shot the ball better than any opponent to step foot inside Haas, going 56.9% from the field.
Adding to Cal’s misery was the lack of offensive production from their starters and most importantly, their leaders. Justin Cobbs, who has state that Cal cannot play lackadaisical as March beckons, managed a tepid 7 points on the night. He did have 7 assists and could have had more if the likes of Tyrone Wallace (1-9 from the field) or Richard Solomon (1-4 from the field) would get their shots to fall through.
Interestingly, Freshmen Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews came off the bench and produced with 11 and 16 points each, respectively. Their contributions were nice injections of energy, but certainly not enough to overcome the complete game UCLA exhibited. Fortunately for the Bears, Sunday night ended differently.
The game against USC finished 77-64 in favor of the Bears, but as it has been a theme this season, Cal started slow and thus, the last placed team in the conference was able to frustrate the Bears in the opening 20 minutes. With 6 lead changes and an even battle in the paint with 32 points to Cal’s 36, the Trojans provided the Bears with a triumph in which they needed to grind out.
Although those paint statistics suggest Richard Solomon and David Kravish had a sound offensive game, they only managed 14 points total. Their 16 rebounds boded well for the team, but USC who jammed the paint in the opening twenty minutes, were spread out in the second half, thus opening up some lanes and allowing Cobbs and company to drive into the gut of the Trojans with lethality.
Unlike their poor scoring against UCLA, three of Cal’s starters were able to reach double figures. Cobbs had 22 points, his seventh 20+ point effort of the season, Tyrone Wallace added 10 and Ricky Kreklow notched 12.
After Wednesday’s spanking, the Bears understood what was at stake and made sure that a team with a lone win, a win which ironically came against Cal, was not going to walk out of Haas Pavilion with a sweep and a dagger into the Bears’ tournament hopes, ” It was a win we had to have. We would have been very disappointed if we didn’t. We’re not into quality points. We’re just trying to win games. We’re tied for third,” head Mike Montgomery explained after the victory.
Junior Guard, Ricky Kreklow, who has found himself in the starting five after bring injured with a broken hand chimed in, “We’re trying to finish this as high up in the conference as we can…we just have to go out and win every game we can and put ourselves in the best position at the end of the night.”
Although Cal would have loved two victories at home to strengthen their Pac-12 credentials, it is encouraging to see Jabari Bird record two back-to-back double figure games. The Freshman guard has battled back from an early season ankle injury, but has not exerted himself in the way Bears fans have pined for when the university recruited the local standout. In the win against USC, Bird nailed a pair of three pointers late and exuded a sense of confidence not seen in games past, “Jabari had a good week. There was a little bounce to his step. He felt better. Everything in practice was better. It’s good to have him back in the mix and where we can feel he can contribute,” said Montgomery.
With only four games left before the Pac-12 tournament, two of which are away from home this week against Arizona and Arizona State, Bears fans will be hoping that everyone on the squad finds a way to contribute.
For these Bears, there is no room for error.