So the Golden Bears won't go undefeated this year.
Against a legit top 10 opponent in the Texas Longhorns, the California Golden Bears showed that they have still got plenty of work to do and plenty of room to improve. In the 2K Classic Championship game (yes, there were trophies and stuff that even the players did not realize), the Bears did find some optimism from this loss that will hopefully serve as a great learning lesson for the rest of the year.
Texas were without their starting PG Isiah Taylor in this game, but did not miss him by feeding their big front line players early and often. The Golden Bears can not do much defensively other than to pick up fouls left and right (it's arguable that the refs in this game was calling things rather tight).
David Kravish called the Texas frontline a "five-or-six headed monster down there. [HAIL HYDRA!] You cut off one head and they bring three more after you." Bears' lack of front court depth, which we all kind of knew may be an issue, is exposed in the one. Head coach Cuonzo Martin did say that had Kameron Rooks not been out, this would have been a different story. Alas, Bears fans will have to wait until next season when we will have the possibility to run a twin towers of Rooks and Okoroh out on the court at the same time.
The Texas length and defense was a tough matchup for the Bears both on the perimeter and inside the post (Longhorns tallied 10 blocks on the game). Still, the Bears have many decent opportunities to score around the rim that they just could not capitalize, with credit given to Texas for their athleticism on that.
The Bears started the game in the same sluggish way like in Thursday's win over Syracuse. Unfortunately, unlike Syracuse yesterday, Texas was able to play well out of the gate (and they led for the entire game). A combination of just sheer bad luck and that Texas front line, the Bears went about 12.5 minutes into the game before they scored their first two-point basket. The early 3 point shot making kept the Bears around in the first half (3 for 8), but the Bears went 0 for 4 in the 2nd half (a little bit surprising on the few attempts given the Bears' deficit).
The Bears trailed 31-21 at the half, but managed to stay around that deficit for three quarters of the game. In the 2nd half, the closest that the Bears got to was 7 point (43-36 with 13:36 left), but can't make enough shots consistently to get closer.
Texas was lead scoring-wise by their starting forward Jonathan Holmes with a game-high 21 points to go with a game-high 13 rebounds (and 2 blocks); many previews suspected would be a matchup problem for the Bears. The only other Longhorn in double digit was Demarcus Holland with 11 points. Holland was also very disruptive defensively, but that did not show up on the stat sheet.
A very frustrating stat for this game is that the Bears only managed to make 12 of their 22 free throws (compare to Texas' 30 for 37), with several misses on the front end of an 1-and-1. The optimistic take here is that the Bears would have been in this tough game against a top 10 team had they just improve their free throw shooting. Between the 54.5% FT shooting and 31.3% FG shooting, there were plenty of missed shots by the Bears.
Yet, Texas only shot 38.8% from the field for the game. More importantly, the Bears forced them into committing 13 turnovers (6 steals for the Bears). While there were quite a few moments where offensive boards grabbed by the Longhorns loomed large, the Bears actually got more offensive boards (13) than their opponent (10); of course, a big part of this has to do with having more opportunities (misses) by the Bears.
Partly due to the foul situation and probably also because this is the 2nd day of a back-to-back, the minute distribution of the 9 rotation players was rather even. Everyone played at least 10 minutes with starter Christian Behrens making the briefest appearance due to his early foul trouble.
Kingsley Okoroh provided a pretty solid 19 minutes where he recored 2 blocks to go with 3 points and 2 rebounds. Despite his supposed rawness, I have been very pleasantly surprised by how well King has done in these two days, particularly moving off the ball.
The Golden Bears were lead in scoring by senior David Kravish (who is an Integrated Biology major on a pre-med track) with 19 points to go with 5 boards. Junior Tyrone Wallace had to carry the team for a stretch in the 2nd half and finished with 16 points (and team high 4 assists...out of only 6 on the game for Cal as a team) despite poor percentages (only 5 for 17 from the field, 6 of 10 from the stripe). Jordan Mathews, who got hot in the 2nd half of the Syracuse game to score 20 points in one half, was kept to just 10 points on the game (3 for 12 from the field).
Given how the Bears were the least heralded team out of the 4 at Madison Square Garden for the 2K Classic tournament, we should be pretty satisfied with the split. Both Kravish and Cuonzo Martin talked about how much the Bears have learned from this experience.
The Bears fought hard in both games and gave their all. It would be interesting to see how much of the occasional defensive lapses will minimize over the course of the season. This is merely the 4th official game on the year. Tyrone Wallace is still learning to play the point. Jordan Mathews, Jabari Bird, and Sam Singer are only a few games into their sophomore year.
At the "World's Most Famous Arena", the Bears made a name for themselves in these two games. Very interested to see the new coach, I came away very impressed by Cuonzo Martin's demeanor and how he interacts with his team. When asked about how this appearance may help with recruiting, Cuonzo Martin again reiterated how the University's prestige and the Bay Area alone is enough to sell itself, but I surely would not be surprised that in the long run, the (sadly) rare bright performance in the spotlight by the Bears on Thursday may have laid the seed on us getting a big time recruit (or two) down the line.