In a game that stayed close for a good while, the sturdy Golden Bears pulled away from a feisty Cal Poly team. The Mustangs came into the game as a slower paced team that led the NCAA in fewest turnovers per game. They added to that by only committing five turnovers, but the Bears matched them in that respect by only committing seven. It was a clean game from a ball-handling perspective.
Early on, Cal Poly controlled the pace, running the clock like the 49ers tend to do. Going to David Kravish and Tyrone Wallace early helped, as both had 7 points and 4 rebounds in the first half. An impressive performance in the first half was from forward Brian Bennett for Cal Poly, who had 8 point in the first half and often backed Kravish down. Cal Poly managed quite a few post-ups where they either finished or drew contact. That number is concerning, but the Cal defense was stingy, holding the Mustangs to 35% shooting for the game.
Cal obviously has a size advantage, and used it in dominating on the wing. There were problems with David Nwaba getting into the lane and drawing contact, to the tune of 12 free throw attempts, but that can happen on any given night with a player who tries to draw contact. Guys need to stay vertical to deal with that, but it isn't always that simple.
When the Bears could get running, it usually led to a good position, with a Wallace assist to Jordan Matthews being a highlight, along with a Matthews 3 off a Sam Singer steal. As has been said before, Coach Martin has taken the roster he inherited in playing to their strengths.
When running, Cal runs a bit like the "Seven Seconds or Less" Suns. Taking threes early in the clock got you the hook last year, but this year there is a difference between a good three early in the clock or a bad three early in the clock. The Matthews' three off the Singer steal was the main example of that. It was an early shot less than 10 seconds in to the shot clock, but it was in rhythm, wide open, and from a guy who can knock them down with great regularity. There's no problem in that.
Once the second half began, Cal Poly stopped running as much clock and started getting up and down the floor much more. Initially, this brought the lead down to three, but when Cal Poly started playing the way Cal wanted to, in a more frenetic pace, we started to pull away. During the first half, the Mustangs would abandon the chance of getting an offensive rebound to stop the transition game, but once they started playing faster, the transition buckets started to trickle in as the lead ballooned up and up. The spark to this was Christian Behrens. He had a career high with 9 rebounds, and a two possession stretch that that gave the Bears a double digit lead that would not shrink below 10 for the rest of the game. On the first, Behrens got an easy dunk off of some great ball movement, then slammed home a Kravish miss. His improvement after missing a season with a torn ACL is pretty astounding, as is his explosiveness. It's a boon for a team that lacks frontcourt depth.
Kingsley Okoroh is further along than Kameron Rooks was at any point last year. He uses his size better in going up for blocks and rebounds and seems less hesitant in his body. Rooks tended to look timid whenever he got the ball, settling for layups. Okoroh is going to be a project, but I think the physical tools are very much there.
Dwight Tarwater was off the mark from three this evening, and his consistency plays a big part in whether Kravish and Behrens can have some rest. Tarwater had a drive where Okoroh sealed off his defender, leaving an easy reverse layup. Tarwater seemed to get a little over-excited and put too much power on it. On the good side, he did get some work in after the game.
The Kravish-Wallace give and go play was used a couple different times, and with Ty's floater becoming automatic, it should be used more often. Kravish is an underrated passer, as is Behrens, and when the ball gets moving, this group of players can find someone open.
Wing play was back to excellent in this game, with the starting guards combining for 51 points. Jabari Bird led the way with 18. Bird has an NBA level midrange game, but needs to keep working on his threes to make sure he doesn't undershoot. The flashes of the 5-star talent are starting to become more frequent, which is a great sign.
Ty Wallace putting up an 18-8-5 stat line seems like the norm these days. Having someone who can get a rebound and take off to lead transition harkens back to the Showtime days, albeit on a much different level. No turnovers for Wallace either, who has adjusted well to the point guard position.
As a student for the four years prior to this one, I was always disappointed at the lack of nicknames players on our team had. This is the year to change that, as basketball seems a bit more fun this year. A couple of the names are easy, with Tyrone "Smoochie" Wallace and David "Krav Maga" Kravish, but others are more difficult. So I am asking those who read this to suggest some good nicknames for our guys.This is going to be a fun team to watch this season. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and Go Bears!