At an altitude of 7165 feet above see level, Laramie, Wyoming was no common place to play. Despite Wyoming being a very young squad, dressing 6 freshmen for the game, this game was one that the Bears cannot assume to win. In the first true road game of the season (Bears only played at Las Vegas for the Las Vegas Invitational outside of Berkeley so far this season), our California Golden Bears (6-2) survived a tough test that once again demonstrated that there are still plenty of work to do before the Bears can live up to the hype of this season. Bears blew a 12 point lead with 10 minutes to go, saw both of their young talented freshmen in foul trouble (granted there were several rather questionable calls against Cal in this game), could not stop the one lone scoring threat for the Wyoming Cowboys (5-3) in Josh Adams, but nonetheless came away with a 78-72 win in overtime.
The game started with Wyoming playing man-on-man which allowed the Bears' offense to look good. Bears had a 12-7 lead going into the first media timeout. Tyrone Wallace and Jaylen Brown both hit their first 3 point attempts of the game. Bears asserted themselves early in this one.
Of course, Wyoming would not just go away. Josh Adams hit a couple of threes and the game was tied after a quarter of the regulation. Wyoming then switched to zone and the all too common stalling of the Cal offense ensued. Cowboys jumped ahead with a 7 point lead at 23-16 with 7+ minutes left before the half. Jabari Bird, coming off the bench once again, then hit a 3 pointer to answer for the Bears. More importantly, Bears brought in Roger Moute a Bidias and Sam Singer who both contributed greatly defensively to slow down the Wyoming offense, aka, Josh Adams. Roger even hit a corner 3 pointer during this sequence. Bears went on a 19-6 run to close the first half. For a team that only average about 10 turnovers a game, Wyoming had 9 turnovers in the first half (there were some craziness just before the half when both team traded turnovers though). At the half, Bears lead 35-29 over the Cowboys. Bears only shot 1 of 6 from the free throw line, by the way. Somehow Tyrone Wallace was shooting the free throws (making 1 of 2) for the Bears on a technical foul called on Wyoming just before the half.
It took 2.5 minutes for the Cowboys to equalize the game in the 2nd half. Bears started Roger Moute a Bidias on the bench, then proceed to allow a wide open dunks to Wyoming big man Jonathan Barnes (the only other Cowboy to score double digit points for the game with 10). Ivan Rabb, who only played sparingly in the first half due to picking up two quick fouls, then showcased his talent for a stretch for the Bears. With 9+ minutes left in regulation, the Bears built up a 12 point lead.
Credit to Wyoming for not going away, but this was also when the refs decided to take over the game. Bears were called for multiple offensive fouls (in particular Jaylen Brown as a part of his 3 turnovers for the game). On the defensive end, Josh Adams was earning all sort of calls after his drives to the baskets.
Josh Adams was an one man scoring machine for the Cowboys. Adams was 10 for 21, with 5 for 11 from beyond the arc, to finish with 32 points. Adams was also 7 for 9 from the line, although one of his free throw miss was the one right near the end of regulation that would have put Wyoming up by 1. What was particularly impressive was how he really was the lone offensive option for Wyoming, yet the Bears could not really stop him.
With 2 minutes to go, Bears saw Ivan Rabb fouled out of the game. Despite his rawness, Rabb was by far the best rebounders for the Bears on an afternoon where Kameron Rooks, who was clearly taller than all the Wyoming players, played 27 minutes but only garnered 6 boards (yet that's a tie for his career high). Nevertheless, the Bears still led by 6 with 2 minutes to go. A three pointer made by Wyoming's Trey Washington followed by a number of layups allowed by the Bears led to the Cowboys having the chance to go ahead after yet another call going the way of the home team. Thankfully, Josh Adams missed the free throw to go ahead and the game ended in a 62-62 tie at the end of regulation. Tyrone Wallace had the chance to win the game for the Bears, but his long 2 attempt with the clock winding down was no good.
Going into overtime, Bears already have both Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown fouled out (Brown picked up his 5th foul via an offensive foul call that was instrumental "stop" by the Cowboys). Fortunately for the Bears, this was where Jordan Mathews took over. Despite shooting only 1 for 9 in regulation, Mathews scored 11 of his 14 points in overtime for the Bears. Although Roger Moute a Bidias picked up his 5th foul early in the OT, the Bears were able to score enough points (thanks to Mathews) to overcome 6 points by Adams. A heavy favorite coming into this game, the Bears survived this trip to Laramie, snapping the Cowboys' 17 game home winning streak.
For the game, the Bears out rebounded the Cowboys 43 to 32, made one more 3 pointer, and had 1 less turnovers yet it required overtime for the Bears to win. Bears forced Wyoming into 12 turnovers, but that's mostly in the first half (only 3 in the 2nd half and OT).
Tyrone Wallace was the go to offense for the Bears, hitting shots to answer most Wyoming runs. Wallace finished the game with a very solid 10 for 22 from the field for 23 points to go with 6 boards, 6 assists, and 3 steals. His steal and a slam near the end of the first half was instrumental for the Bears to have that halftime lead. His 41 minutes played was by far the highest total for the Bears - only Wyoming's Josh Adams with 42 minutes and Jason McManamen with 43 minutes stayed out on the floor for longer.
After 8 games in, the 2015-16 Golden Bears are still a work in progress. Nevertheless, it is important to note that this was the first road test for the Bears in a hostile territory even without this altitude factor. Although the Bears had the advantage inside and the athleticism that should have made this an easy win, the Cowboys were able to neutralize the height with better boxing out technique and the whistle happy referees took away Jaylen Brown's aggressiveness in driving to the hoop. Fortunately, there are enough guys like a Jabari Bird or Jordan Mathews in OT that could get hot and carry the Bears.
What is a lot more disturbing, however, is the defensive issues for the Bears. Roger Moute a Bidias basically has taken over Stephen Domingo's rotation spot in this game. Other than Roger, however, the rest of the Bears did basically nothing in slowing down Josh Adams. As good as Adams was, there are plenty of players of his caliber in the Pac-12. Bears have got to play better defense against someone who can shoot from the outside and drive to the hoop. Cuonzo Martin's teams are supposed to be known for their defense. The Bears have already got 8 games of the new defensive rules; the team needs to perform better than either allowing a wide open layup or get called for fouls.
Simply put, this was a game that the Bears could not really afford to lose for their postseason aspirations. I don't think the selection committee look that carefully at whether the loss is on the road or not (case in point when the Bears lost that road game to UCSB at the "Thunderdome" in the season that they missed the tournament under Mike Montgomery). Winning ugly at the "Dome of Doom" was much much better than losing. Given the way that the Bears won this one, you would think the practice and film sessions will be intense in the coming weeks.
Bears are back home for 3 more games before a trip to the East Coast to play a ranked Virginia team (that game will be my first chance to see this year's team in person). Right now, I don't think the Bears have a good chance to win that game. Still plenty of things could be worked out in these next two weeks.