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Cal 67, Princeton 57: Bears dominate 2nd half in comeback win

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The Bears overcome a hot shooting start from Princeton to record their ninth win of the year.

Ty, Ty, he's our guy
Ty, Ty, he's our guy
Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Be honest: Were you worried when Cal faced an eleven point deficit with 8:24 left in the 1st half? Or did you assume that Cal's defense would improve, that Princeton would cool down, and that Tyrone Wallace would eventually get his points?

The Tigers started the game 11-15 from the floor. Granted, Cal wasn't playing their best defense, and Princeton shoots the ball pretty decently. But even then the start was clearly unsustainable. But falling behind by double digits against a team that likes to slow it down is always dangerous, and so it's understandable if fans started to get nervous.

Sure enough, the hot start was unsustainable. Princeton shot just 10-29 for the rest of the game, and Cal gradually chipped away bit by bit. The Bears took their first lead with 8:57 left in the game, maintained that lead, then put the game on ice with solid free throw shooting. It might have been too close for comfort, but we're starting to get used to that concept, aren't we?

For the nth game in a row, it was Tyrone Wallace who led the charge with 20 second half points. But this time he got a little more help from his teammates, with David Kravish, Christian Behrens and Jordan Mathews all finishing in double figures. The slow pace and non-aggressive (read: doesn't draw fouls) offense that defines the Princeton system meant that the Bears could lean on their starters for major minutes; Wallace played 38 while Mathews went the full 40. That's what it takes with Jabari Bird still sidelined.

These recaps are going to start getting repetitive both in terms of describing Cal fighting for ugly wins, and in terms of running out of superlatives for Tyrone Wallace. His ability to do everything for Cal is something you rarely see on a major conference team. His usage rate this year has gone through the roof, yet he has improved his passing and shooting numbers without increasing his turnover rate. He's quite simply keeping the Cal offense afloat while doubling as probably Cal's best defender on the other end. In a world without Delon Wright or the entire Arizona roster he would perhaps be the early Pac-12 POY front-runner.

Bullet points:

  • The first 10 minutes was an unfortunate combination of Cal not being quite ready or used to the precision offense that Princeton runs while also seeing the Tigers shoot the lights out. But after that flurry, Cal was in great shape. I think they in particular did a great job on back-door cuts, forcing multiple turnovers in the 2nd half on Princeton's bread-and-butter play.
  • A decent bounce-back game from David Kravish (congrats on reaching 1,000 career points!), who sat for much of the 1st half in foul trouble but bounced back with a solid 2nd half, with some key buckets and blocks. I'm not going to go overboard with praise in part because he basically did what we all know he's capable of doing, and we all suspect he can do even more.
  • 19 turnovers from Princeton is a lot, and 11 came in the 2nd half. We're starting to see the stifling defense we all dreamed about when Cuonzo first got hired.
  • Jabari Bird was listed as 'questionable' today. At this point I'm hoping he'll be back for CSU Bakersfield as a warm-up for Pac-12 play.
  • Seems like we're due for a game where Jordan Mathews just goes off and can't miss, right? It'd be nice if it happened against Wisconsin.
Cal plays 8-1 Eastern Washington next, in a game that could be a surprisingly decent resume boost if the Bears can win. EW is playing Washington tonight at 5:00 on the Pac-12 Network, so you have the opportunity to scout two future Cal opponents that look better than expected. If Cal can win next Friday against the Eagles the non-conference schedule has to be considered a success regardless of what happens against Wisconsin.