Solomon struggled early on both ends, and Crabbe had trouble freeing himself for open looks. When Cobbs got picked for a turnover, the Bears neglected to hustle back and the Yellowjackets took their first lead with an And-One transition lay-up. Moments later, another steal turned into points and it became a 22-17 deficit.
After a quick Monty timeout and team-wide chew-out for the lack of effort, the Bears stopped the bleeding thanks to a nifty Cobbs spin and pull-up jumper. Ears ringing from Monty's disappointment, the Cal players showed a noticeable increase in defensive energy and effort as they started to force stops.
Solomon added two free throws after being fouled on a clever inbounds play. Then, Wallace worked a give and go with Thurman for a finger roll. And the lead was cut to one.
Another stop on D and then Cobbs found Kravish on the baseline for a jumper and the lead.
But the Yellowjackets responded with a three pointer and a putback dunk to reclaim a three point advantage with minutes to play. While the Bears were struggling to consistently box out and to stay disciplined on defense, it was compounded by a lack of rhythm on offense.
Just as it looked like Georgia Tech was starting to pull away, Robert Thurman hustled back to stop a breakaway layup with a block. Crabbe finally freed himself for a pull-up jumper. And then Solomon exerted himself with a strong offensive board that turned into free throws.
As the clock wound down, Cobbs worked the pick and roll to perfection and found the Thurminator for a dunk at the buzzer. Somehow, despite the turnovers and defensive breakdowns, the Bears managed to find themselves ahead 34-33 at the half.
Georgia Tech was clearly spending a lot of energy making sure that Crabbe wouldn't beat them. They had one man chasing him off the three point line and frequently brought over another to help when he tried to drive. If there was one easy adjustment that needed to be made, it was to make a better effort at getting back in transition. It's these lapses of low energy and lack of hustle that really make us miss Jorge and Harper's leadership. If there was one player who really stood out by working hard on both ends, it was David Kravish.
Amazingly enough, Cal actually held a rebounding edge, 18-14. If not for the turnovers and transition baskets, it could have been a decisive Bear advantage.
For once, the Monty halftime speech didn't seem to take; it was a less than ideal start to the second half. Solomon missed a layup, gave up a layup, and then committed an ill-advised foul. This was followed by a careless Cobbs turnover and then a missed breakaway layup by Crabbe. In less than two minutes, the Yellowjackets erased the Cal lead into a three point edge of their own.
But out of a tv timeout, Monty drew up another patented inbounds play that got Robert Thurman an easy layup. Moments later, Crabbe finally got going with a mid-range jumper and then Cobbs found Thurman running the lane for another layup. It was all tied at 42 as the clock ticked down to the thirteen minute mark.
There was a noticeable increase in the Bears' defensive energy. Wallace had a highlight reel block off their guard's leg for a turnover. After trying to play behind their posts one on one, Monty went back to quick doubling. It paid off immediately with a steal and breakaway Cobbs dunk.
The Cal lead grew to five off a sweet dump down from Crabbe to Solomon. Then Solo moved his feet and played some inspired defense by denying their best post any entry passes. In frustration, the Yellowjacket big went over the back and gave Solo two more free throws.
Tyrone Wallace dominated the next sequence with another block and then a change of speed drive that resulted in a tough three point play. Now Cal was balling and had a ten point lead to show for it.
Although Georgia Tech was supposed to be the team known for defense and glasswork, it was the Bears who were forcing turnovers and contested shots.
When Allen Crabbe finally blew the lid off the basket with his first three pointer of the night, it began to look like this one would go to the blue and gold.
Just to make it interesting, missed free throws and a Yellowjacket run cut the lead from 14 to 9. But Tyrone Wallace decided to put any drama to rest by hitting a three with a minute and change to play.
As the final horn sounded, "Bear Territory" cheers celebrated a 68-57 Cal victory.
For all the ugliness early, it was incredibly encouraging to see the Bears put it all together in the 2nd half. Defensive rotations were much better as was the effort spent in denying post entry passes. Full credit needs to go to Kravish, Solomon, and Thurman for out-rebounding a very good rebounding team. And Tyrone Wallace stood out as a difference-maker. Monty kept the true frosh on the floor for most of the second half. He lived up to his billing as a lockdown perimeter defender while facilitating ball movement on offense. It's always interesting to see who Monty trusts to close out games. During crunch time, Mr. Wallace didn't leave the floor.
On the one hand, it's also promising for the growth of this team to see them figure out how to overcome a cold shooting night from Allen Crabbe. On the other, let's hope we don't have to scuffle through too many prolonged slumps like this again.
It's a day off for our Golden Bears and then on to the championship game this Sunday at 6pm PST. Go Bears! Beat the Tigers!