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Cal Pulls Out Tough Win Against East Carolina

Rabb Dominates Glass in 70-62 Victory

Ivan Rabb Controlled the Boards All Evening
Ivan Rabb Controlled the Boards All Evening
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Good

You wanted to see our young team tested? You got it. You wanted to see them get a win under tough conditions? Check. You wanted to know how good our prized local recruit is? Now you know.

With 2:28 left in the game on Friday night, the East Carolina Pirates had the ball down just three points against the 15th ranked California Golden Bears. An East Carolina team that finished 14-19 last season, and that is an afterthought in the AAC this year. That East Carolina. Not the game we were expecting, and a bit of a bump in the road during the early days of what may be a trip deep into March, and possibly April.

You want the good news first? Okay. Cal won 70-62. And this guy? The local kid we picked up from down the street in Oakland?

Ivan Rabb

He's really good. By the end of the year, he may be as good as any big man in Cal history. Yeah, there, I said it.

5-7 shooting and 4-6 from the line for 14 points, to go with 13 rebounds, including 6 (six!) on the offensive end, plus 5 massive blocks. And the stats don't begin to do it justice. In big moment after big moment in the second half, Ivan Rabb imposed his will on the game. Gobbling up missed shots. Cutting off driving lanes in the paint with his massive wingspan. Jamming thunderous putbacks that threw the crowd and his teammates into a frenzy. Rotating the ball quickly out of the post, and making a sweet no-look pass to Jabari Bird for a key bucket. Coming up with the block that sealed the game.

The difference between this year and last year? Cal doesn't win that game without Ivan Rabb.

There were some lowlights. We are going to have to acknowledge them. But we are team #HYPE around here, so let's start with what went right for the Bears.

First, you get better by being battle tested in tough situations. Cal did not execute particularly well, but there was never any sense of panic, and every player on the floor was poised throughout the game. We also got to see what our rotation will look like in real life. Only eight players saw action, with the starters playing big minutes:

















Some of those minutes were dictated by matchup, but I think mostly they were dictated by who's better at basketball. It is good from a developmental standpoint to see players starting to get settled into roles.

Second, Jabari Bird showed up big in this game. Only 10 points and 6 boards, but they were in big, meaningful spots in the second half. Exploiting gaps on the baseline against the ECU zone, he managed an efficient 5-8 from the floor, and came up with 4 massive offensive rebounds.

The Bad

ECU plays a zone similar to Syracuse. They use a variety of man principles, get in the passing lanes, and cause a lot of turnovers. Cal's execution against the zone was mediocre. In general, you beat a zone by distorting it. If you move a defender or two out of position, via ball movement and player movement, other defenders have to compensate, further warping the zone until a scoring option appears. Cal tried to do this multiple times with screens, but often the timing of the simultaneous passes and cuts was missing. In other spots, Cal tried to enter the high post. I don't think I recall the high post entry happening successfully, although I do remember a few botched attempts that led to turnovers. The only attack Cal had mild success with was sneaking a player along the baseline, and then passing to that player for a score. This did not happen often enough.

In a way the result makes a lot of sense. You beat a zone as a team, not one on one. You do it with simultaneous ball and player movement. This team has not played together very long. They couldn't sync up the movement long enough to be successful.

  • Tyrone Wallace scored well, but the more important stat was five turnovers against only two assists. He forced the ball into the teeth of the zone when he shouldn't have, at least half a dozen times. This is not ideal for your point guard. We are going to forget this happened and never speak of it again. We're not even going to talk about the night Jordan Mathews had.

  • Jaylen Brown continued to force his offense also. Because he is such a remarkable athlete, he still manages to put up good numbers -- in this case 16 points and 10 boards. He draws a lot of fouls, and fouls are a big benefit. But eventually, he's going to have to learn to be more efficient within our offense.

  • Kameron Rooks was in a matchup nightmare -- not quite able to defend the pick and roll effectively, and ineffectual offensively against the zone. He struggled.

  • The Bears gave up .94 points per possession, which was close to what ECU averaged last year. They committed 19 fouls that sent ECU to the line 25 times. Our defense can be better. Rabb, in particular, has to stay on the floor, keep his arms vertical, and keep himself in games. He can be a defensive presence without fouling, but it will take experience, careful thought, and hard work.

The Ugly

The Bears shot 3-23 from three point range. Let me save you some time. That's 13%. That's terrible.

The first thing to note is that this is a statistical anomaly. This team is not going to shoot 13% in any game the rest of the year. No matter how poor the looks were, we can expect to shoot significantly better than 13%. If we shoot 25%, the game ends up being a lot more comfortable. That said, some of the looks were awful. Cal shot a ton of rushed, contested, out-of-rhythm three pointers. We can live with shooting good looks poorly, and some of our tough night was a result of simply missing proper attempts. But some of the problem came from the aforementioned shortcomings in zone offense leading to bad shots and bad misses.

This stuff dominos. You execute poorly, you end up taking more threes, those threes are better contested, players lose confidence, shoot poorly, don't feel as good or in rhythm for the next one, and on and on. Cal has to play better overall offense in order to increase overall efficiency. But hey, we already knew that.

  • Cal also shot 19-31, 61% from the line. I don't think we know what the true ability of this team is at the line, but I'd imagine it's higher than 61%.

  • Cal had 14 assists and 15 turnovers. 10 of those turnovers came in the first half.

Okay. So. Not our finest game. But it was a win, it was gutty, and it was a good learning experience. On to the next one.