Cal stays hot by taking advantage of suspension-hampered Colorado

February 5, 2017

Cal Bears, NCAA


By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY–As half of the final, televised sporting event leading up to the Super Bowl, the Cal Bears drew high ratings with skillful shot making, and dominant play early.

Then with viewers tuning out upon seeing the lopsided, halftime score, the Bears pulled ’em back in by allowing Colorado to make a game of it late.  That part was probably more Nielsen ratings-oriented than coach Cuonzo Martin would have preferred.

“Once (Colorado) settled in, they did something we didn’t want them to do, which was go with the smaller lineup,” Martin said after Cal’s 77-66 win.  “I felt like they would always have an advantage unless we played the zone, especially with George King at the four. If they went small, we had to put one of our bigs on the bench, which isn’t necessarily a strength for us. But when we went to the zone, it worked out for us.”

With freshman Charlie Moore enjoying his best half of basketball since his breakout against UC Irvine in November, the Bears surged on Sunday, hitting nine three-pointers to forge a huge lead. Moore contributed 5 of 7 shooting from three, and the Bears grabbed their biggest lead of the afternoon, 39-16 with 3:28 remaining.

But that deficit served as a wake-up call for the Buffs, who scored 20 of the next 24 points spanning halftime to make a game of it, then getting as close as 62-57 with 3:19 left.  Colorado came in riding a three-game win streak after losing its first seven Pac-12 contests, only to find out prior to the game that head coach Tad Boyle had suspended frontcourt tandem Xavier Johnson an Wesley Gordon for some poor, undisclosed decisions following their win over Stanford on Thursday.

“Two really good kids made a bad decision,” Boyle said without disclosing the specific transgression.  “We’re in the education business. These are lessons that go beyond basketball.”

So while Martin feared King and a smaller Buffs lineup, without Gordon and Johnson, King found himself matched with 6’11” Ivan Rabb, an assignment so consuming it left King with little energy on offense.  Also, Cal’s zone proved effective early, causing seven of the Buffs’ nine turnovers in the first 17 minutes alone.

King finished with just seven points, and guard Dominique Collier five as Colorado failed to cover offensively for their two missing starters despite forging a huge comeback.

“We made shots to get ourselves back into it, but at certain times we had some really good looks that didn’t go in, and to come back from where we were, you really have to play a flawless second half.”

While Cal allowed Colorado’s comeback, they showed growth offensively by sharing the ball with each other, especially early.  The Bears took a page out of the Warriors’ playbook with 11 assists on their first 12 made baskets. When it was over, six Bears scored at least 9 points, and none more than 17, perhaps their most, balanced effort all season.

“We expect all of our guys to play and be very effective,  but it definitely helps us when everyone is able to score with the way teams defend Ivan,” Martin said. “The way teams defend against Ivan, really corralling around him, you have to be ready to step up and make a shot.”

The Bears (17-6, 8-3) remained tied with UCLA for third place in the Pac-12 with the win, their fourth straight. If their NCAA tournament strategy is to win the ones their supposed to, they did that this weekend at home against Utah and Colorado.  If their more sound strategy is to pull a noteable upset, then that opportunity comes next in Tucson on Saturday against first-place Arizona.

Either way the Bears are in the tourney mix, precariously one bad loss from being left out, or one big win from being invited.

Next up, the Bears attempt a season sweep of Arizona State on Thursday evening in Tempe.

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