By Morris Phillips
Catching the vaunted Syracuse Orangemen a hemisphere away from the Carrier Dome seemed like a good idea for the Cal Bears.
But that’s only if you haven’t checked the numbers: after Syracuse’s 92-81 win over Cal on Tuesday, the Orangemen are a perfect 8-0 at the Lahaina Civic Center, winning Maui Invitational titles in 1990 and 1998.
After beating Cal, No. 8 Syracuse is poised to win a third title, facing Baylor on Wednesday in the tournament’s championship game. Cal will face Dayton–narrow 67-66 losers to Baylor–on Wednesday in the EA Sports Maui Invitational third place game.
“I thought we played really, really hard, really pleased with the effort,” Coach Mike Montgomery said. “We had some lapses of things and I don’t think in that level of game you’re going to be able to win if you have lapses.”
In comparison to the Bears loss to Syracuse in last season’s NCAA second round at San Jose, this was a huge improvement for Cal. Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs played tentatively, and the Bears struggled to figure out the Syracuse zone in a six-point loss that seemed much bigger. This time, Cal played well in transition, and gave the ‘Cuse a battle, shooting 51 percent and scoring 81 points.
“I thought watching Cal yesterday that their team this year is much better than last year’s team,” Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said. “I just think (Jabari) Bird is one of the better freshman composure-wise that I’ve seen.”
The Bears played without center Richard Solomon, who had played 22 consecutive games, but missed Tuesday’s game with an eye injury. Without their big man, the Bears didn’t back down, getting poised performance by five freshman in their nine-man rotation, and trailing 62-59 with 8:54 remaining when Syracuse pulled away.
“I think the problem was we had some lapses in terms of defense,” Montgomery said. I think as much as anything, the in-line out of bounds hurt as much as anything. They probably scored 15 points on in-line out of bounds in the zone.”
Cal was led by Cobbs with 18 points and eight assists. Bird had 17 points and seven rebounds, David Kravish had 15, and Jordan Mathews 12. Tyler Ennis led Syracuse with 28 points, and Trevor Cooney added 23.
The Bears outrebounded the Orangemen 30-26, but saw Syracuse shoot 53 percent from the field, and 95 percent from the line, missing just one free throw on the night.
“I like the way we fought without our big guy, Richard Solomon,” Cobbs said. “I think we played hard and gave them everything we wanted. Just couldn’t pull it out at the end.”
The Bears fell to 5-1 on the season, and their meeting today with the Flyers provides another opportunity for an significant win as Dayton upset No. 11 Gonzaga on Monday.