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Bears dominate paint in easy win; Cobbs leaves with injury

Richard Solomon and David Kravish control throughout, but Cal fans will worry more about an apparent knee injury suffered by Justin Cobbs, who left gingerly under his own power.

Richard Solomon's play in the paint paced Cal's dominating win over Denver.
Richard Solomon's play in the paint paced Cal's dominating win over Denver.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Here's a simple way to describe how much Cal dominated the Denver Pioneers: Last year, 72 points was the most they allowed an opponent to score. Against Cal? They allowed a few more than that in a 77-50 defeat that was never close. Cal raced out of the gates to a 24-5 lead and Denver would never get closer than 14 the rest of the way.

Controlling the game so completely against a disciplined, solid mid-major is a great sign for the rest of the season, but the game was dampened when Justin Cobbs came down awkwardly trying to block a shot on a fast break and appeared to hyper-extend his knee. He stayed down on the floor for a few minutes, before very slowly walking off the court with the assistance of two Cal trainers. He later returned to the bench with ice around his knee, so there is reason to believe that the injury is minor. Still, Cobbs is one of the obviously irreplaceable players on the roster this year, so concern is understandable.

Otherwise, it was a perfect night. If Cal is going to be a team that can compete for a Pac-12 title, their campaign will be built around controlling the paint. Richard Solomon and David Kravish did just that, combining for 24 points and 19 rebounds. Perhaps more importantly, they were the primary reason that Denver managed only eight made two point shots. Cal's post duo early on established that Denver wasn't going to be able to get the ball into the post with some early blocks, and the Pioneers seemingly stopped even trying.

As a result, they settled for three point attempt after three point attempt, and started the game ice cold. By the time they heated up from deep, the game was functionally over. On the flip side, Cal only attempted seven three pointers in total. The game plan was to attack the paint, and the Bears followed that game plan relentlessly, with great success. The result was lots of layups, lots of offensive rebounds and putbacks, lots of free throws, and an ultra efficient 77 points on just 56 shots.

And that's how you beat a contender for the Summit League title by 27 points. Other thoughts:

  • It's so gratifying to see Richard Solomon living up to his potential. Denver missed 30 shots, and Richard Solomon had 14 defensive rebounds. He's staying aggressive on offense without being reckless, and I truly think he can make a push for all-conference honors if voters place any value at all on defense and rebounding.
  • Tyrone Wallace was also plenty aggressive, although he still can be a bit reckless with it. But this year, that's a good thing, because he'll likely finish more often, and because he'll draw a ton of fouls. He'll be shooting plenty of free throws, and he has hopefully improved his free throw shooting from last year.
  • Just six turnovers by Cal's offense against a team that, over the last two years, forced turnovers on nearly 25% of their opponent's possessions. Sure, it helps to have a steady, veteran point guard and a combo guard at the 2. But it speaks to the improvement from Kravish and Solo too.
  • Not a ton to say about the freshman, other than to note that they all looked comfortable in the offense, and did a good job of picking their spots. 22 combined points from Bird, Mathews and Singer isn't too shabby.
While I'm cautiously optimistic about Justin Cobbs' knee, if he needs to miss some time Cal should be able to get by. Next up on the schedule is Oakland and then Southern Utah. Oakland has already been blown out twice this year and Southern Utah is a bottom tier Big Sky team. Cal doesn't really need Justin until the 25th, when they head to Maui.

As for Denver? I wouldn't read too much into this game, but at the same time, a convincing blowout is certainly better than any alternative. Presuming good health for Cal's senior floor general, this team is exactly where we want it to be.