It was a great Friday night at Haas. Lured by the irresistible combination of free tickets plus free food, there were plenty of students on hand to watch Cal's season opener against the mighty Anteaters of UC Irvine.
In what we hope is a prelude to the year to come, Cal exploded out of the gates on a 13-2 run featuring two Crabbe 3's, a Solomon And-1, and a Jorge steal leading to transition points. After starting someone sluggishly against UCSD, there was no shortage of effort on either end for the starters this game.
Monty went deep into his bench early, rotating in Cobbs, Thurman, and Kravish. Later in the half, Bak Bak, Powers, and Murray also got some time. Although the offense wasn't nearly as crisp, the Bears steadily built their lead up to 36-15 with 6:15 to play. After giving up a few offensive boards to UCI early, Richard Solomon decided to attack the glass like a man possessed. He snagged a team and game high 6 boards in the 1st half alone while providing a strong shot-blocking presence in the post. Cal played man all half and gave up very few open shot opportunities. On offense, the Bears could move the ball seemingly at will. In fact, it was almost too easy to get early shots and a few guys fell in love with that first shot. Even so, the lead grew to 48-23 at the half.
It's a little hard to nit-pick a 25 point lead against an over-matched opponent. However:
1) Hedge your bets
Cal was called for at least four fouls when their bigs hedged to cover the screen and roll. Kamp, Solomon, Kravish, and Powers were all whistled. Either the refs were awfully stingy with the whistle, or there's something to the way the Cal players have been coached to play it. Either way, the guys need to recognize how the refs are calling the game and adjust their play accordingly. We can't afford to have Kamp/Solo pick up cheap fouls.
2) Trust the offense
Because all of Cal's players were able to beat their guy and get any shot they wanted at any time, they started to get a little careless with forcing early shots. More often than not, they got bailed out by fouls. But that was due to UCI's lack of size and quickness, not necessarily because it was a good move by the Cal player. We won't be able to get away with that against bigger and better teams.
1st Half Highlights:
We came out with great intensity and sustained it for the most part even when it was clear that we greatly overmatched our opponent. Crabbe was deadly from the outside, Jorge was Jorge, and Solo went Beast Mode on the boards.
The second half started as the Allen Crabbe show. He blasted UCI with a quick 7-point flurry featuring an elbow jumper, three pointer, and a stolen inbounds pass that he threw down with no regard for human life. Monty went to his bench early. And the wheels fell off. Sloppiness, turnovers, and missed defensive rotations cut a 25 point lead down to 13. Although the starters were put back in, they weren't able to re-capture the effortless rhythm from earlier in the game. It stemmed the bleeding, however, and the Bears slowly started to pull away again. The teams exchanged baskets until Crabbe hit a dagger three for an 18 point lead with 1:07 to go. When the final whistle blew, it was 77-56, Cal.
We knew there would be some drop-off when the starters go out. Giving up a double-digit run to an over-matched UCI team is a bit troubling. Can we get our bench up to speed so that Monty will trust them against tougher competition?
2) Post Scoring
It's beginning to look like we won't be able to replicate MSF's rock-solid presence in the low block where you could just throw it to him and expect him to produce. That means our points in the paint will have to come from penetration or well-executed ball movement.
1) Allen Crabbe - 24 pts. His pull-up and dribble drive game are still being developed. But when he's got it going, he's already one of the premiere catch and shoot guys in the conference.
2) Jorge Gutierrez - 11 pts, 9 rebs, 7 assists. Typical Jorge game, including the scuffles.
3) Richard Solomon - 8 pts, 7 rebs. These numbers could have been a lot higher, but Monty gave his reserve bigs a lot of run tonight. After pressing a bit in the exhibition game, Solo bounced back and did what we needed him to do; dominate the glass and provide opportunistic scoring down low.
In some ways, this was the perfect early season victory. The first half made us all feel like this team could be very good. And the second provided enough teaching moments to keep the guys focused and hungry to improve. It's one day of rest before going back in action this Sunday against the George Washington Colonials. Go Bears!