Bears squeeze past Oakland, 64-60 behind freshman Bird

By Morris Phillips

Friday night at Haas Pavilion, Oakland was a lot closer to Berkeley than anyone in a blue-and-gold uniform could bear.

The Grizzlies from suburban Detroit are known for their challenging non-conference schedule and armed with prolific three-point shooter Travis Bader, they gave Cal all they could handle in the Bears’ come-from-behind 64-60 victory.

“There was no question that Oakland played harder than we did,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said.  “We were late to loose balls, we weren’t attentive to details.”

Oakland led by as many as nine points in the first half, and the game was tied with 2:10 remaining as the Grizzlies’ zone defense, hustle and the shooting of Bader, who finished with 21 points, kept Cal on its heels.

Cal managed to keep pace in the second half as freshman Jabari Bird heated up, finishing with a career-best 24 points, including six made three pointers.  Bird’s three with 1:59 remaining broke a 56-all tie and gave the Bears the lead for good.

“Basically, I caught it and was open and had been hitting three’s all night, so if we were going to lose this game, I wanted to lose the game with that… but it went in and we won,” Bird said with all the carefree wisdom of an 18-year old.

Justin Cobbs contributed 13 points and five assists, and Richard Solomon had 11 points and 17 rebounds to aid Cal’s cause.   Bader had assistance from Kahlil Felder and Tommy McCune who had 13 and 11 points respectively for Oakland.

Oakland fell to 0-3 with earlier losses to No. 12 North Carolina and No. 24 UCLA.  The Grizzlies played without second-leading scorer Duke Mondy and forward Dante Williams, who were accused of sexual assault in Southern California earlier this week.  The pair were cleared in an initial police investigation but suspended by the university pending further fact finding.

Cal improved to 3-0 on the season with a matchup with Southern Utah up next at Haas on Monday night.   The Bears improved to 36-6 in non-conference matchups during Montgomery’s five plus years as coach.

The Bears shot just 33 percent in the opening half as Oakland’s zone made Cal’s cumbersome mix of veterans and freshman a bit tentative.  At halftime and then early in the second half, an animated Montgomery did all he could to wake his guys up.

“We had five minutes alone, just sitting there silent, and then he came in and talked to us like it was a regular game,” Bird said of Montgomery’s halftime prodding.  “And then right before we walked out he said get the energy up and play like we know we can.”