Cal bounces back, beats Cal Poly as Coach Jones wins for the first time

California center Kingsley Okoroh (22) bring the ball down court during NCAA Men’s Basketball game between UC Riverside Highlanders and California Golden Bears 66-74 lost at Hass Pavilion Berkeley Calif. Thurman James / CSM (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

On the cover photo by twitter/Cal Athletics forward Justice Sueing drives on Cal Poly defenders at Haas Pavilion Sunday night

By Morris Phillips

BERKELEY, CA–Apparently, the Cal Bears have inadvertently discovered a huge chasm in the pecking order of men’s basketball teams from the Big West Conference.

UC Riverside, picked to finish eighth in the nine-member conference, had their way with the Bears in the season opener on Friday, leading by as many as 23 before settling for a 74-66 win.

Cal Poly, picked ninth with one vote fewer than Riverside, trailed the Bears by 19 points early in the second half before rallying only to lose to Cal, 85-82.

Never mind the difference between the outlooks for the conference foes, what got into Cal, far more poised and effective against Cal Poly, than they were just 48 hours before against Riverside?

“We responded by getting closer as a team,” said transfer Marcus Lee, who contributed 21 points, 11 rebounds in the 85-82 win. “With a team that’s so young and so new, going from a loss to coming together with a big win is huge.”

In fact, guard Don Coleman and center Kingsley Okoroh represent all that isn’t new about the Bears, the team with the fewest returning lettermen in Division I with two. So some level of variance in the team’s performance should be expected. But to this level? On Friday, the Bears had almost no offensive cohesion, shooting 30 percent from the field and managing just seven assists. On Sunday, they doubled their assists and made 56 percent of their shots.

“We got the ball inside,” Coleman said in explaining the improved offensive efficiency. “We played inside-out instead of outside-in. That was a big reason for it.”

Coleman became the first Bear to score 30 points in back-to-back games since Ryan Anderson accomplished the feat in 2008. But this time, all that scoring was within a framework, and didn’t reflect poorly on Coleman or the Bears as it did on Friday when Coleman needed 28 shots–missing 19–to reach that total.

“I told him, `In the half-court set you need to be a little more selective,'” coach Wyking Jones said. “I’m happy he had this kind of a game because it’s a lesson.”

Supporting Coleman, Lee, Okoroh and freshman Justice Sueing all posted career bests in scoring, and did so while making better than half their shot attempts. The unusual number of players reaching their career bests in scoring in the same game reflects the fact that this year’s Cal team is a collection of players that aren’t familiar with being the lead dog, but adjustments in their games are being made quickly.

“Obviously, we did a great job of getting the ball in the paint to Kingsley and Marcus, and getting drives from our guards as well to shoot 70 percent from the field in the first half, ” Jones said. “Second half, I think our guys got a little too loose and kind of let their guards down a little bit.”

The Mustangs made 16 threes to close the gap at the finish with the last two made three coming in the game’s final ten seconds. Marcellus Garrick led Cal Poly with 19 points off the bench, and the Mustangs acquitted themselves far better than they did in losing to Stanford by 16 points on Friday.

The Bears conclude their season-opening homestand on Thursday against Wofford at 6pm.


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