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Cal Withstands Second Half Colorado Charge, Wins 77-66

Charlie Moore leads the Bears with 17 points

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at California
Jabari Bird contributed 10 points for the Bears
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Cal basketball improved to 8-3 in conference and 17-6 overall by defeating Colorado 77-66 at Haas Pavilion on Sunday afternoon before an announced crowd of 9,719. A good effort in the second half wasn’t enough to save the Buffaloes, who dropped to 13-11 and 3-8 in conference. Cal outrebounded Colorado 40-32 while shooting 38% on three-pointers compared to 29% for the visiting team. The Bears held a slight edge in field goals, making 41% to Colorado’s 37%.

The beginning of this game was reminiscent of Thursday’s matchup with Utah. The Bears set the gym ablaze from behind the arc against an unexpected Colorado zone defense. The result was a 19-0 run, a 37-14 Cal lead, and a season-high nine made threes in the half. Charlie Moore alone was 5-7 on three-pointers and credited good passes from the inside for his success. Jabari Bird went 2-3 from the outside on his way to 10 points. Grant Mullins and Sam Singer chipped in one apiece. However, Mullins was just 1-9 for the period and 3-14 overall. Mullins did sink an important triple much later to put Cal ahead 65-57 with 2:36 left in the game, so you could say that confidence never deserted him. A flurry of late foul shots brought him to 16 total points, while Singer scored 9.

Ivan Rabb didn’t dominate, but he did get a double-double: 11 points and 11 rebounds. His signature play was an emphatic slam following a Moore miss. Rabb has been successful behind the arc recently but missed his only two attempts on Sunday. While King George III was a hated figure in Colonial America, Cal fans didn’t enjoy what they saw from Colorado’s George King. King played very physical defense on Rabb, causing ESPNU announcer Corey Williams to say that the Colorado forward was “all over him.”

Colorado coach Tad Boyle went to a full-court press at the end of the first half, which forced a five-second violation against Stephen Domingo but didn’t rattle the Bears in general. Cal held a 41-26 advantage as the buzzer sounded. Domingo got involved more positively later when he sank a second-half triple and got fouled attempting another.

While Cal made hay with long-distance shooting, the Buffaloes got themselves back in the contest from the foul line. They made 16 free throws before Cal converted their first. The final numbers would be far more lopsided if not for late-game Colorado fouling. CU hit 18 of 22, while the Bears foiled Colorado’s comeback attempt with clutch foul shots and ended 14-18. Derrick White made four early field goals to begin the second half and was Colorado’s best player with 25 points. His outburst contributed to a 17-2 Colorado run that helped them avoid a blowout. According to Mullins: “I think we had a few mental lapses on defense that gave them some open shots.”

The Buffaloes were missing Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon in this game due to disciplinary reasons, but they seem to have shaken off their 0-7 start to conference play. Aside from the big recent home win against Oregon, they split the Bay Area trip by getting their first Pac-12 road win at Stanford on Thursday.

My biggest criticism concerns some unnecessarily aggressive second-half transition offense. With 16 minutes left and Cal up by 11, Mullins tried to push the ball up the court and lost the ball. In the final ten minutes, Moore pressed the issue with a similar result, leading to free throws for Tory Miller. Incidentally, Miller 10 points made him the only Buffalo outside of White in double figures. Obviously you can’t just run the clock out with that much time remaining, but it seems foolish to rush toward the hoop when you’re outnumbered and enjoying a decent lead. Running the clock down and getting set for a quality look at the hoop would have been more prudent.

Moore’s bad pass with 3:26 left resulted in a Miller three-pointer off a feed from Bryce Peters, he of the colorful hair. That cut the Cal lead to five, but the turnover was really a result of miscommunication among teammates. Even a late shot clock violation forced by Colorado couldn’t be blamed on terrible offensive execution. The Bears could have used the injured Don Coleman, but his absence didn’t derail Cuonzo Martin’s team either.

Moore had some great moments beyond his demonstrating great range, hitting a beautiful driving layup that brought Cal’s lead back to double digits. He was a big reason that the Bears grabbed seven early points off turnovers and managed to rack up eight assists along with 17 points. I’m continually excited to watch a freshman of his caliber get so much experience right away.

Kingsley Okoroh played 21 minutes and was true to form in swatting away three shots. However, Kameron Rooks would be the center providing the offense. Despite a lack of polished post moves, he can be an effective inside scorer. You can’t quibble with 4-5 from the field in just 18 minutes of play. Rooks also pulled down a significant defensive board in the waning minutes, drawing a foul that sent him to the line. He ended with six total rebounds, an assist to a cutting Singer, and a block of Josh Fortune.

The Bears found themselves in foul trouble partially due to some questionable officiating. After Ivan Rabb’s third foul, he chatted with the Cal coaching staff trying to get some explanation for how he could have avoided fouling. Bird got his third on a strange decision too: George King made a fast break layup and the referee must have been situated at a poor angle to call the and-one against Jabari. A second-half offensive whistle against Okoroh led to disapproval from the TV announcers as well. In the end, only Buffaloes Lucas Siewert and King reached the five foul limit.

Watching the Cal Band wave goodbye to the fouled out players was enjoyable especially because Boyle prolonged the game. Indeed, he called timeouts seemingly after every basket his team made in the final minutes. Once he instructed his charges to stop fouling, the Bears were able to celebrate another win on home court.