By Morris Phillips
There’s not just one blue-and-gold clad basketball team living in the East Bay, there’s two, and just like the NBA Warriors, the Cal Bears are building confidence and winning games.
The Bears fashioned a big second half on Saturday night, overcoming a double-digit deficit against Princeton, and winning 67-57, their sixth straight win under new coach Cuonzo Martin.
Princeton’s trademark patience, backdoor cuts and outside shooting gave Cal fits for the first 30 minutes of the game in which the Tigers led by as many as 11 points in the first half, and still led by eight with 15 minutes remaining. Hans Brase, Spencer Weisz and Clay Wilson combined to hit eight of Princeton’s 10 made 3-pointers as the Tigers jumped out quick making their first eight shot attempts of the game.
“When you deny the wings, they go backdoor on you and they will send two guys backdoor,” Martin said of the Princeton attack. “We were on our heels in the first half and we allowed the ball to move side-to-side. When that happens against a team that shoots the way Princeton shoots, it can be a long night.”
But once Cal got acclimated to what Princeton was doing offensively and defensively, they fashioned a big comeback with leading scorer Tyrone Wallace doing the heavy lifting.
Wallace scored 20 of his team-best 23 points in the second half as Cal figured it out, especially what the Tigers were doing in their 1-3-1 zone that took Cal out of most of its traditional offensive sets.
With 15 minutes remaining, and immediately after Brase hit his fourth 3-pointer of the night, Cal clamped down defensively, holding Princeton scoreless for almost 10 minutes. The streak of stingy defense was just what Cal needed as the Tigers are known for milking leads of five to 10 points as if they were much bigger leads. After hitting eight threes in the first half, Cal limited Princeton to just two after the break.
“The looks we were getting were different than what we were seeing in the first half. That takes a little bit of your confidence when the first few don’t go down compared to the first half,” Princeton assistant coach Marcus Jenkins said.
“We did a better job in the second half of settling down, getting those guys off the line and containing the dribble,” Martin said.
Cal starters Jordan Mathews (12 points) and David Kravish (11) each aided the Cal attack with the senior post the key by flashing into the lane, surveying the defense and making good decisions to pass or shoot. Christian Behrens continued to make strides with 12 points, equaling his career-best scoring total from the previous game against Wyoming.
“Christian has made huge strides,” Kravish said of Behrens. “I came in with him as a freshman and he’s been fighting off that ACL and he had another one a couple years ago. That was tough, but I think he’s finally healthy and we’re all glad. He’s comfortable. It’s good to see him just finally be able to play basketball. Coach is demanding a lot from him and Christian is really rising to the challenge.”
The Bears 9-1 start is their best since 2002, and they are in the midst of a seven-game home stand that will take them through the start of Pac-12 conference play.