Led by a resurgent defensive effort that held Fresno State to 32% shooting, Cal moved to 8-3 on the season and will head to Creighton on the right foot.
For what it's worth, Fresno State's offense is roughly as good as the Nevada offense that gave Cal so much trouble on Tuesday. Different in terms of style and components, but roughly as efficient. The Bulldogs have, at least so far, been a pretty good shooting team and they like to take a lot of threes. Cal did an excellent job of closing down shooters, contesting every shot, and generally doing most of the little things that they haven't been doing lately.
Cal's defense was particularly good to start the game. Fresno State only had four points over the first nine minutes of the game; one transition layup and one put-back dunk. Cal didn't allow a half-court set basket for nearly the first quarter of the game. It's exactly what we'd want to see from this team after iffy defensive efforts over the last two weeks.
I don't think any one player necessarily was the catalyst for the defensive improvement - as is usually the case, it was a team effort. Richard Solomon and David Kravish were much more decisive with their contests. Guards generally did a better job of stopping penetration, and the Bears particularly benefited from 26 minutes of Ricky Kreklow, who had one of his best all around games in a Cal uniform.
It's worth wondering if Cal's best lineup isn't a lineup with Ricky Kreklow. Jabari Bird had a rough offensive game, but is still likely the better offensive player. But is the difference so great that Kreklow doesn't make up for it with what he brings on defense? For now, both players will likely get somewhere in the range of 25 minutes/game in Cal's 7.5 player rotation.
The Bears weren't quite as sharp offensively, in large part because they just didn't shoot the ball very well. The offensive flow just seems a bit off for most of the game as Cal too often settled for lower percentage shots when they had decent looks from outside or could have worked the ball inside to Richard Solomon.
Luckily, when Cal did get it inside to Solomon, the result was always great. Solomon flashed a variety of veteran post moves all night, as he completely bossed an undersized FSU front line on his way to 17 points and 14 rebounds. In a weird way, I'm more encouraged at how he and Kravish combined to control the defensive glass, rather than the scoring itself. Especially after Cal struggled to clean up the defensive glass against UCSB and Nevada.
Like I said above, the Bulldogs are one of the smaller teams Cal will play, so it's probably best not to overstate how much Cal controlled the game inside. Still, it's encouraging, because as I'm sure I've stated before, I'm of the opinion that Cal will go as far as David Kravish and Richard Solomon can take them. When they contest every shot in the paint, control the defensive glass, and contribute 20 to 30 point combined, Cal is a very, very tough team to beat.
UCSB hiccup aside, Cal has mostly held the line since Maui. We'll get a good idea of how ready this team is for Pac-12 play next week against Creighton, likely the toughest game of the non-conference schedule considering it's a true roadie.