Cal bounces back: MWC opponent Wyoming becomes the Bears’ 22nd consecutive victim at Haas Pavilion

 

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Wyoming forward Hayden Dalton (20) dives to save a out of bounds ball in front of California guard Don Coleman (14) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY–The laundry list of things to fix for the Cal Bears was lengthy and varied Friday night, and it didn’t change if the Bears were up 22, or clinging to the lead in the final seconds.

Transition defense, entry pass angles, switching on screens to get to shooters and ball movement were highlights, but the list didn’t end there.  And the process didn’t begin or end with Cal’s 71-61 victory over Wyoming.  Despite his team leading their Mountain West opponent by double digits for more than half the game, Coach Cuonzo Martin made it clear he’s looking for improvement.

“You have to execute down the stretch, I think we got excited (because) we got a big lead” Martin said.  “We didn’t defend at the level we needed to, we didn’t maintain the level we needed to.”

When the baskets disappeared—the Bears went from 7:15 to 42 seconds remaining in the game scoring just two points—the game grew tight, and that too was an issue for a young club needing to mature.  In the final stretch, the Bears got offensive foul calls, botched an entry pass, got stripped in the post and set some sloppy screens, things that were issues in Sacramento on Monday in their loss to San Diego State.

But this time, Cal was in the win column thanks to a really good defensive stretch at the game’s beginning, and some pleasant offensive efforts from Grant Mullins and Roger Moute A Bidias.  Just seven minutes in, the Bears led 11-1, Mullins and Moute A Bidias combined for 26 points, a nice compliment to scoring leaders Ivan Rabb and freshman Charlie Moore.

Moore figured to be Cal’s top newcomer after a highly decorated high school career in Illinois, and it may be a far more consistent deal than anyone could have expected.  In his last three games, Moore has scored 73 points, attempted 28 free throws and been named Pac-12 Player of the Week.  Against Wyoming, Moore added a career-best six assists and three steals.

“He makes plays. He makes good decisions,” Martin said of Moore.  “He’s one of the better guys I’ve seen as far as attacking ball screens, reading ball screens, and he’s so shifty that it’s really hard to trap him and he has a variety of moves in and around the rim with his floaters, pull-ups, step-backs.  He’s just a tough guy to defend.”

Moore’s a company guy too.  When Moore and senior Moute A Bidias were asked what’s the magic to Cal’s 22-game home winning streak—currently the nation’s seventh longest—Moore weighed in first saying it’s “definitely just the crowd.  Familiar faces and familiar surroundings.  We get shots up in her all the time so in Haas just playing a game, it comes easy to us.”

Rabb looked rusty in just his second game of the season.  Moore and Rabb hooked up on a nice interior alley oop that needed the long arm of the 6’10 sophomore to impact the difficulty meter, and when Wyoming got within 10 points with nine minutes remaining, Rabb responded with a pump fake and a bank shot that dropped and drew a foul on the Cowboys’ Alan Herndon.

Jabari Bird, the likely third wheel to a Rabb-Moore led Cal offense missed his third straight game with back spasms.  Martin said he could be out two more weeks, but maintained he wasn’t sure as his medical doctor days, like many of us, are confined to a Holiday Inn Express.

The Bears led by 12 at the half, and 22 with 12 minutes remaining.  But Wyoming chipped away—reserve Justin James came up with 17 of his game-best 28 points after halftime—and the Bears had to protect a 65-60 lead in the game’s final minute.

“We played on our heels in the first half, and you can’t do that against a tough and gritty team like Cal,” first-year Wyoming coach Allen Edwards, the successor to veteran coach Larry Shyatt, said.  “We were more assertive and played better in transition in the second half.”

If nothing else, the Bears have a measure of the Mountain West having struggled at a neutral site against MWC pre-season favorite San Diego State, then cruised—initially—at home against Wyoming, picked to finish ahead of only San Jose State in the 11-team league.  The Bears are 19-2 at home under Martin against non-conference opponents.

The Bears face Southeastern Louisiana on Sunday at 5pm at Haas Pavilion.  The Lions of the Southland Conference most recently won at UTEP by 17 points, and lost by eight at Colorado State.

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