When Cal started the first five minutes 1 of 5 from the field en route to a 2-5 deficit, it was hard not to take a deep breath and think "here we go again."
Fortunately, the defense came to play and Harper Kamp maintained his hot hand.
And a 18-2 run quickly reversed the Bear fortune to 20-7, including five points from Murray off the bench. Like a ruthless constrictor snake, the Bear defense shrugged off the Utes best efforts at offense, and slowly grew the lead with tight offensive execution.
Kamp worked the lefty J from all his favorite spots while Jorge and Cobbs reversed their Thursday night shooting doldrums with a variety of spot ups and pull-ups.
When the horn sounded at half, it was 32-15 Cal. And, it didn't feel nearly so close. Great Bear defense compounded Utah's issues with their inconsistent offense. To the relief of Bear fans everywhere, Jorge & company returned to form with a solid shooting performance.
Utah offered a flicker of resistance with a 5-2 run to start the 2nd half. Cal quickly responded with a precise set that resulted in a Crabbe jumper, Kamp drew a charge on the other end, and then Jorge tapped a sweet touch pass to Harper for an open layup.
It sure looked like the rout was on. Rumor has it that Jorge, Cobbs, and Murray all stayed late after the Colorado game practicing their shooting. The hard work provided immediate dividends for all three. With both Jorge and Cobbs stroking it from the outside,the lead slowly grew to twenty-one, 43-22, within the first five minutes.
To the Utes credit, they tried to counter-punch and rode Watkins' signature move (drive head-first to the basket like a bowling ball) to keep it a twenty point game with twelve and change to play.
But Jorge stayed hot, Murray nailed a three, and Solomon showed off some nifty footwork in the post to extend the lead to 28 by the nine minute mark. By the time Thurman checked in to nail a nifty drop-step lefty hook, the lead was 31 and the final result was just a formality.
This was Monty-ball at its finest. Although the Utes were as advertised with their inability to consistently hit from the outside, they didn't play poorly. The Bears were simply the better team in all phases. Tough-nosed defense forced contested shots and unselfish ball movement resulted in good shots on the other end. Unlike the previous game's toothache of a shooting performance, tonight we hit a more typical percentage of our open shots.
It was great to see Harper Kamp continue his offensive resurgence with a variety of nifty moves around the basket combined with a steady baseline jumper. Jorge was back to his usual all-around dominating self. And, Cobbs controlled this game from the point from start to finish.
Even more encouraging, Emerson Murray had his best game of the year and his career with eight points. If he can continue to stroke the outside shot, his quickness could be a great asset off the bench. It was also really nice to see Alex Rossi and Christian Behrens get some run. In limited minutes, Behrens was active defensively and cleaned the glass. Despite countless months of rehab, Rossi showed little rust and buried his first open look. If these two guys can start producing more consistently, they both add skillsets that could really help the Bears moving forward.
Even after Monty cleared his bench, the lead soared as high as thirty-nine. When the dust settled, it was an efficient Cal victory, 81-45.
As expected, the team bounced back from their woeful shooting performance on Thursday and took out their collective angst on the hapless Utes. Hopefully, this game will serve as a good tune-up because our sturdy Golden Bears have to undertake one of their tougher road trips as they head out to face the Washington schools next week.
For now, we'll take this one. Go Bears!