Without Rabb, Bird, Cal gets upset by Bakersfield in the NIT 73-66

March 15, 2017

Cal Bears, NCAA

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY–For the Cal Bears, life without Ivan Rabb and Jabari Bird started 40 minutes too soon on Tuesday.

Both offensive stars were unavailable for Cal’s NIT opener due to injury, and the visiting Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners pounced, racing to a 25-point halftime lead, before holding on for a 73-66 victory.  

Cal’s season-long struggles offensively could have cropped up with Bird and Rabb, but with neither available, those issues were apparent from the opening tip. The Roadrunners took off, hitting eight three-pointers in the opening half while the Bears forgot they were in familiar Haas Pavilion.  Cal missed 24 of their 28 shot attempts prior to the half, and went scoreless over the final five minutes, making just free throw in Bakersfield’s closing run.

The small crowd at Haas Pavilion and the late start didn’t propel the Bears, nor did the disappointment of narrowly missing out on the NCAA tournament and having to settle for the NIT.  Consequently, the Bears served up a clunker in a game televised nationally by ESPN.

“I thought we came out with low energy in the first half just because it’s not the NCAA tournament,” said Cal guard Don Coleman, who led the Bears with 26 points.

While Coleman’s thoughts may have been candid, Coach Cuonzo Martin’s weren’t, but may have been more insightful.

“It affects you a big deal because those two guys are your first and second leading scorers so your offense has to flow through those guys.  Again, they had nothing to do with the effort in the first half. Whether they’re playing or not you still have to have the energy.  We might have lacked in the area of scoring, but we should have been better defensively in the first half.”

Coleman spearheaded a second half surge by the Bears that got them within six points in the final minute.  But Bakersfield held on despite missing 8 of their 18 free throw attempts down the stretch. Coleman, the sophomore transfer with a handful of starts, finished with a career-best 26 points.

Grant Mullins was the only other Bear in double figures with 10 points.  Rabb missed the game due to a plantar fasciitis issue on both feet, and Bird was still under concussion protocol after his hard fall in Cal’s Pac-12 tournament loss to Oregon.

The season-ending loss concludes the collegiate careers of Bird, Mullins, Sam Singer and Stephen Domingo.  Rabb is expected to announce that he will forgo his final two seasons and declare for the NBA draft.  

Speculation surrounds Coach Martin, who is considered a candidate for openings at Illinois and Missouri.  While under contract to Cal, Martin could be lured with a richer contract and an opportunity to return to his geographical roots in the midwest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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