Jabari’s probably the first guy I’ve ever been around -- since I’ve been doing this as a coach since 2000 -- when you get on him, you coach him, you teach him, you get after him...he’s never pouted, he’s never complained, he’s never made facial expressions, he’s never talked back. Probably the only guy I’ve ever been around like that. Even on his bad days, he still wears his hard hat to practice. That’s why he’ll be successful.
--Cuonzo Martin on Jabari Bird
On January 9 in Corvallis, Gary Payton II lit up the Golden Bears for 20 points, 11 rebounds (5 offensive), and 8 assists. In the rematch this afternoon, the guy who started the game defending Gary Payton II was...Jabari Bird.
At the under 12:00 timeout in the first half, Glove Jr was 0-2 from the floor, had 0 offensive rebounds and 0 assists. Meanwhile, Jabari had 5 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist. Cal had an 8 point lead.
The history of McDonald’s All-Americans at Cal is uneven. On one end of the spectrum is Jason Kidd, one of the greatest point guards ever to step on a basketball court. On the other is Jelani Gardner, whose ignominious career ended with a bag of money and a transfer to Pepperdine. For the bulk of his career, Jabari Bird sat somewhere in the forgettable middle of that spectrum, a likeable, able contributor on offense who struggled to find consistency and defensive technique. This season, word out of practice was that he had become the vocal, spiritual leader of the team. And with that leadership came improved defense. Showing that defense is about will and effort, Jabari quietly metamorphosed from one of the worst defenders on the team to one of the best. That transformation was highlighted by his tenacious feet and quick hands against Gabe York on the last play of the Arizona victory, with the biggest win of the year hanging in the balance, after he was inserted into the game on the last possession for defensive purposes.
But still we waited for the Jabari offense to emerge. A terrific stroke, a nice first step, and improved athleticism were somehow not adding up to points on the court. Coming into this week, Bird’s season high was 17 points, and he had exceeded a dozen points only four times. Meanwhile, the Cal offense stagnated, relying too heavily on Jaylen Brown creating offense by himself, with Jordan Mathews and Ivan Rabb perpetually suffocated, and no other options to take advantage of the spacing created when teams shaded toward those three options.
Until this week. This glorious week. Against the teams from Oregon, Jabari Bird fulfilled all of his considerable potential, a 24 point masterpiece against Oregon followed this afternoon by 23 points on 9-14 floor (4-8 3p), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, while guarding the Beavers’ best player. He had 13 points at the half, when the Bears held a 12 point lead. The Bears and Michael Greenstein tried their best to keep OSU in the game, with the lead slipping to as little as 4 points midway through the 2nd half, but as is always the case at Haas Pavilion, ultimately the home team won.
Final score: Cal 83 - OSU 71
California now sits at 7-5 in conference, 1.5 games out of first. The conference champion will likely have 12 or 13 wins. The Bears have little margin for error to take home the crown.
Talk of finishing 5-1 or 6-0 may seem unrealistic for a team that’s winless on the road, when 4 of the remaining 6 will be away from Berkeley. But this team is playing the best, most consistent basketball it has played all year. It is due for better variance on the road. And in any event, we’re entering the home stretch of the season, and I’m not in the mood to be pessimistic. Let’s instead talk about possibilities. Cal is better than both Washington teams. They will be a coin flip in one game, and a firm favorite in the other. They finally seem to have the veteran leadership they have been lacking.
It’s time to march into other schools’ gyms and take what’s rightfully ours. It’s time to soar into the postseason on the wings of a Bird. It’s time to fulfill our destiny. It’s time to finally be #TeamHype. It's time to write the best chapters of this story. On the road. Together. We attack.
Cal turned the ball over at an abysmal 24% rate in Corvallis. That went down to 16% tonight. If they can keep it at that rate for the rest of the year they will win a lot of games.
The bad news is the Bears committed 21 fouls and the Beavers shot 22 free throws. The good news is the Beavers committed 33 fouls and the Bears shot 44 free throws. The bad news is the Bears only made 59% of their free throws. The good news is that percentage was 46% midway through the 2nd half. The free throw shooting is what it is. It’s not going to change. Nor, it appears, will the officiating in the Pac-12. So I guess we should celebrate that the Bears got to the line 22 more times than the Beavers, and move on.
Bird’s hot shooting night was particularly important because Ivan Rabb, Tyrone Wallace, and Jordan Mathews all had mediocre nights. Cal looks increasingly comfortable against zone defenses, but failed to knock down a lot of good shots. They also continue to struggle to find good spots for Rabb. Hopefully that is the next domino to fall, especially as more attention is paid to the wider variety of Cal offensive threats.
Jaylen Brown. Dunkage.
Jaylen Brown, we'll see you Monday night on #12Best! https://t.co/Y5YA3Y41Lk— Pac-12 Networks (@Pac12Networks) February 14, 2016