Years ago, some of my first Cal memories were made at UC Davis. I was introduced to Cal Band by spending a week at their annual camp held in August on the Davis campus. Prior to that time, I never had a rooting interest when it came to college sports. That would change very quickly in the months to come. I’ve always thought that my Cal fandom was born during those hot summer days when the upperclassmen urged us all to stay hydrated while we ran our pregame show time and time again.
But enough about my origin story. At Haas Pavilion in the present day, Cal faced UC Davis in their first game back from a trip to Hawaii looking to make it 26 straight home wins. The Bears would emerge with a decisive 86-61 victory. It didn’t take long for the Pac-12 Network announcers to take note of Cal’s effectiveness at keeping the Aggie point total down, noting that Davis coach Jim Les “understands their defensive prowess.” Yes, but during a 16-3 Cal run could he do anything about it?
UC Davis was held off the board for a stretch of five minutes until Brynton Lemar and Chima Moneke scored back-to back hoops with just minutes to play in the first half. By that point, the Bears led 27-13. Things wouldn’t get much better for the visitors, and the final play of the half was a microcosm of the game to that point. J.T. Adenrele looked to have the jump on putting back a Siler Schneider miss. Instead, the ball ended up in the hands of Charlie Moore. Moore sprinted toward the other end and threw up a half-court heave that drew an OHMYGOD reaction from yours truly when it rattled in to beat the buzzer, making it 39-18 Cal at the half.
The transition scoring helped a Bears team that sometimes has difficulty in half-court sets. Cal only won the points off turnovers battle 28-22 all told, but they held a decisive edge in building their first half lead and scored 11 on the night via the fast break alone. Cal also outscored UC Davis 38-28 in the paint and enjoyed a rare 80% night from the free-throw line compared to 50% for the Aggies on similar attempts. While the Bears only outscored the Aggies 47-43 in the second half, Cuonzo Martin deployed his reserves heavily. We even had a Koko Kurdoghlian sighting!
I can’t tell you for sure whether Moore will play in the NBA one day, but he already acts like a pro. After an assisting on a Grant Mullins basket, he drew an immediate offensive foul against a surprised Darius Graham during the inbounds play. Not only did Moore enter the night shooting 41% on three-pointers, he made 4 of 5 in this one. What’s more, he has proven that he can make them well beyond the college line. The Aggies were sloppy with the ball for much of the night, but his quickness and anticipation netted him four steals including an impressive swipe from Schneider followed by a coast-to-coast layup. It wasn’t a mistake-free night: Moore did commit five turnovers, but his skill level continues to impress.
The Cal reserves made a major splash, outscoring the Aggie bench 17-0 early on and 47-13 overall. A white-hot Mullins played 22 minutes and misfired just once in amassing 17 points. Roger Moute a Bidias built a little confidence, scoring nine points including one make from deep. Cole (does it) Welle had his biggest game as a Bear, and the crowd roared in appreciation for the walk-on. He had 10 points in total and narrowly missed a corner three that would have brought down the house. Don Coleman deserves credit for getting him into the flow with an assist on his first hoop. Roman Davis made two late buckets as one of 12 Bears to score, and Nick Hamilton drilled a three for his first basket since 2014-15. If only Stephen Domingo could have managed a field goal or two.
Thanks in part to some questionable calls, Ivan Rabb ended up fouling out. His six points and four rebounds look underwhelming, but Rabb’s talent showed up for stretches. He was a defensive force at times, and the Aggies’ difficulty getting around him was palpable during their first half drought. In his best moments, Rabb made plays like hitting a skillful step-back jumper. He later defied a double-team by rattling in another hoop. Given more space, Rabb nailed a jump-hook. When the Aggies tried to smother him, he found Kingsley Okoroh for a second half dunk on an and-one play. That was Okoroh’s only field goal, although he racked up four rebounds and two more blocks. I don’t mean to sugarcoat a meager 3-8 shooting line, but Rabb has been battling through hand issues and his performance doesn’t worry me unduly.
A bright spot for the Aggies was the play of Moneke, who hails from Canberra, Australia. I guess the Aussies don’t exclusively head to Saint Mary’s. Moneke sported thick eyeglass frames, which fell off his head on a couple of occasions, and a headband looking more like a bandage than legitimate athletic equipment. Appearance aside, all he did was go 10-15 from the floor, scoring 24 points with 10 rebounds. Moneke employed some effective inside moves to get to the basket consistently and wasn’t deterred if he missed an initial shot. Hard to believe he was held to two points in his last outing at Idaho.
Lemar’s 14 points made him the only other Aggie in double figures, although Mikey Henn acquitted himself nicely in going a perfect 3-3 behind the arc. The anti-Moneke was Schneider, who made four turnovers and shot 1-6 in an utterly frustrated performance. He came in averaging 11.6 points, but only a late trey saved the guard from a scoreless evening.
Call me sentimental, but I really wanted Sam Singer to score after the Cal Basketball Twitter feed posted a photo of his 2008 bar mitzvah as part of Jewish Heritage Night. Arena staff even passed out shirts with “Go Bears” written in Hebrew, much to the delight of former Cal coach Ben Braun. Singer finally got his points with about four minutes to go, hitting a layup and finding Mullins for an easy score on the very next possession.
Jabari Bird had some good looks at the basket, but it was a fairly quiet night for him. He headed to the locker room with an apparent back injury in the second half, although the cause may have been simple fatigue. Hopefully it’s the latter, since Bird has struggled with back issues of late.
This may have been a non-conference game against an unimpressive opponent, but the Bears seemed to take it seriously. If nothing else, the involvement of so many Cal backups should prove beneficial for team chemistry. Roman Davis looked especially excited to be making contributions even in a blowout. The Bears now get a deserved week off from game action, which should bring Kameron Rooks a bit closer to rejoining the team.