If there is such a thing as game to game momentum, the Bears should be feeling good right now. Going in to their toughest test of the season so far on Monday, Cal turned in their best performance since beating Syracuse in New York in a 78-67 win over a talented Eastern Washington.
For the last few weeks, Cal's wins have been defined by solid defensive efforts making up for iffy offensive performances, with Ty Wallace carrying the load without a ton of help. That wasn't the script at all Friday night, as Cal's offense probably turned in the better performance than the defense. And Wallace didn't have to do quite as much legwork. Sam Singer and Christian Behrens both turned in career high scoring performances to turn a dangerous game into a relatively comfortable win.
The game was a repetition of runs. In both halves, Eastern Washington came out hot and outscored Cal thanks in part to a flurry of poor turnovers. But in the final 10 minutes of both the 1st and 2nd half, Cal took over completely on offense and the Eagles (or, more accurately, Tyler Harvey) weren't going to hit enough 3 pointers to stay close.
Really, the game was probably decided towards the middle of the first half, when Cuonzo Martin and the Bears collectively realized that Eastern Washington didn't have any legitimate rim protection. What followed was drive after drive to the basket, with three frequent results:
1. Whichever guy is guarding Christian Behrens moves to provide help defense, and the driver dumps the ball to Behrens for an easy bucket
2. Help defense doesn't arrive, and the driver just takes the ball straight to the bucket.
3. Either of the above, but instead EWU commits a foul.
This happened over and over and over and over and in the end the results were stark: Cal shot 23-33 on 2 point baskets and attempted 27 free throws in a game that didn't really see intentional fouling at the end. This is what happens when your only consistent interior player (Venky Jois) is also one of your big scorers and won't spend all day contesting shots because he can't get in foul trouble.
Hell, that might have been Cal's game plan from the beginning, but the Bears weren't able to execute it because they spent most of the first 10 minutes fumbling the ball, making unnecessary extra passes, and generally turning the ball over for no particular reason. Cal only had 14 points and seven turnovers after 11:40 of game time, but they would score 64 with just four turnovers (all early in the 2nd half) the rest of the way. The offense scored consistently the rest of the way.
And really, the only reason EWU made the game close at times was because Tyler Harvey played out of his mind. He and Jois are legit players who could find a role on any Pac-12 team except perhaps Arizona, and they both scored just enough to keep the game interesting into the 2nd half.
Based purely on points allowed/possession, this was Cal's 2nd worst defensive performance of the year after Texas, but I'm prepared to say that the defense wasn't meaningfully worse than the last few games. It was mostly a function of EWU being arguably the best offense Cal has faced so far this year. Combine that consideration with some crazy made 3s from Harvey and 2 or 3 really crummy foul calls on what looked to be clear blocks, and you get a defensive performance that looked better than the numbers might otherwise indicate.
- It's a fascinating game when a 2nd or 3rd offensive option player scores 20 points, but that's what EWU's defense gave to Christian Behrens, and he took full advantage by nearly hitting each of the 13 shots he took from the field and the line. Behrens reminds me very much of Robert Thurman, in that he understands interior spacing and where to position himself so that he always makes himself available as a passing option to a cutting guard while being ready to go up and score. Undervalued skill.
- Sam Singer regained some of his offensive impetus that had been missing over the last few games. That he hit 7-8 shots was a combination of being more aggressive on the drive and EWU's (I know, I'm being repetitive) utter lack of rim protection. Still, it was shocking to discover that this was his first double digit game EVER as a Bear.
- Tyrone Wallace is now having ho-hum games that end with 21 and 11.
- Jordan Mathews was mired in constant foul trouble and couldn't hit any of his 3 point shots. David Kravish was also mired in constant foul trouble, and attempted just two shots. Cal still ran away with an easy, double-digit win. Make of that what you will.