As expected, the Bears defeated the visiting Coppin State Eagles with ease on Friday night to open the 2013-14 season. Coach Mike Montgomery opted to use a starting lineup of Richard Solomon, David Kravish, Justin Cobbs, Tyrone Wallace, and the now healthy Ricky Kreklow, leaving prized freshman Jabari Bird on the bench. Kreklow justified Monty's trust in him by promptly scoring the first basket of the season for the Golden Bears.
Against an undersized opponent (Bears out rebounded them 51 to 37) that plays zone, the Bears quickly alleviated some early season concern about their possible lack of 3 point shooting by making a few 3s. Coppin State, to their credit, hung in relatively closely with the Bears by making 3 pointers from 25 or more feet from the basket.
Amongst the returning players, sophomore Tyrone Wallace was the most impressive. Wallace was assertive in taking the open shots and showcasing his much improved shotmaking (Wallace shot a mere 34.2% from the field last year) to put up a career and game high 20 points (7 of 14, 3 of 6 from 3 point land) with 6 boards, 7 assists, 2 steals, and 1 emphatic block. Not needing to take over the game, senior Justin Cobbs had a solid 16 point game with 6 assists. David Kravish continued his ascension on the Cal blocking list by adding 4 blocks to go with 7 points and 11 boards. Richard Solomon had a double-double (5th of his career) with 10 points and 10 boards. Ricky Kreklow contributed 8 points (2 of 4 from 3's) with 2 steals.
Wallace "I think this was a stepping stone for us to recognize how good we can be if we play together. We’re moving in the right direction."— Cal Men's Basketball (@CalMensBBall) November 9, 2013
The much anticipated Cal freshman class also had a decent debut. Jabari Bird added 14 points (6 of 14 but just 2 of 7 from 3's) with a variety of athletic shots. Bird also added 7 boards to go with 5 assists and 2 blocks. Equally as impressive was fellow freshman Jordan Mathews who added 6 points. Sam Singer, Kameron Rook, and Roger Moute a Bidias all played less than 8 minutes each and looked rather raw at times. Most importantly, none of the Bears had more than 2 turnovers.
Coach Montgomery: "There were a lot of bright spots. We had some good individual performances, we had 5 or 6 guys that played really well."— Cal Men's Basketball (@CalMensBBall) November 9, 2013
Coach Montgomery on Bird: "It's obvious Bird can do the spectacular. He can bring people out of their seats, no question about that."— Cal Men's Basketball (@CalMensBBall) November 9, 2013
So with just one game in the book, the rotation appears to be Kravish and Solomon in the front court with a crowded backcourt option of Cobbs, Wallace, Kreklow, Bird, and Mathews. That's only a 7 deep rotation, so it would be very interesting to track who else can earn a spot to join this group.
Coppin State were lead by Sterling Smith and his 16 points. Even late into the second half, the Eagles actually kept things relatively close (cutting the lead down to about a dozen on a few occasions) although it never felt like they were a real threat. Bears also left the door sort of ajar by missing way too many free throws. The team shot just 10 of 20 from the charity stripe. That number will definitely need to improve going forward.
Nevertheless, on a night when Stanfurd and UCLA had to struggle to beat Bucknell and Drexel, respectively, the Bears had a relatively comfortable win. The team rewarded the fans' optimism by flashing their potential to be a Pac-12 conference contender. If you believe that the team will continue to improve over the course of the season, this game was not a bad place to start.
Jabari Bird: "It was an amazing experience. It was fun going out with my teammates and getting the W. I'm looking forward to our next game."— Cal Men's Basketball (@CalMensBBall) November 9, 2013