By Morris Phillips
Among Mike Montgomery’s mix of veterans and greenhorns, sophomore Tyrone Wallace may possess the greatest potential for growth. In the season-opener on Friday, it appeared Wallace may be ready to realize that potential.
Wallace collected 20 points, seven assists and six rebounds in Cal’s 83-64 win over Coppin State at Haas Pavilion. The still rail-thin swingman looked much improved from his up-and-down freshman campaign in which he played in every game, and started 20 times, but shot just 34 percent, including just 22 percent from three.
“Basketball, 24-7, this off-season,” Wallace said when asked about the growth in his game. “All the work I put in is really translating over to games and I am really confident right now in my shot.”
Wallace knocked down half of his 14 shots, including three of six three-point attempts on his way to leading the Bears in scoring. Cal depended on heavily on its starters in dispatching the Eagles, playing them extensively in a first half in which the Bears established a 15-point, halftime lead. Cal’s shooting and wow-factor improved in the second half as high-flying freshman Jabari Bird put his imprint on the game.
Justin Cobbs added 16 points and six rebounds, and Bird chipped in 14 points and seven rebounds. Coppin State was led by Sterling Smith with 16 points and Arnold Fripp with 10.
The Bears have won all six of their season openers under Coach Montgomery and are attempting to make a fifth NCAA appearance under the watch of the veteran coach.
“There were a lot of bright spots,” Montgomery said. “We had some really good individual performances… I thought we lost our attention span defensively a little bit. There was probably a point in time where we didn’t feel threatened so we didn’t play quite as hard defensively.”
The Bears are picked in the middle of a crowded Pac-12 conference race, primarily because the eight newcomers outnumber the five returners. Wallace stands out because he’s not quite a veteran, but with 21 starts under his belt, experienced enough to know what Montgomery demands at both ends of the floor. The Bakersfield native became a natural at the defensive end, but given his statistics, he could make a great deal of growth on offense. Friday all that was apparent as Wallace knocked down open shots and found his teammates when appropriate.
According to Coppin State Coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell, the Bears offensive versatility gave his Eagles fits, as much as their lack of size made them vulnerable to the Bears in the paint.
“They shot the threes, made us extend a lot more, and then they started taking it in,” Mitchell said. “They did a tremendous job.”
The Bears host familiar opponent Denver on Tuesday in the continuation of a four-game homestand. Cal may not get its first real test until Thanksgiving when the Bears travel to Maui and open the tournament there against Arkansas.