BERKELEY -- After a disappointing upset loss to UCSB, the California basketball team needed another victory to get its season back on track. On Tuesday evening, the Golden Bears did just that, notching a vital 92-84 win over the Nevada Wolf Pack.
Cal was led by 16 points off the bench from freshman phenom Jabari Bird -- 14 coming after the half – and another 16 from big man David Kravish, with four other Bears scoring in double digits.
Among those was senior point guard Justin Cobbs, who added 15 points and eight assists as Cal sealed head coach Mike Montgomery’s 664th win in his 31 seasons on the bench, tying legendary UCLA coach John Wooden for 27th on the all-time wins list for Division I men’s college basketball.
“It’s very flattering,” Montgomery said. “I followed him very closely and watched all the national championships and got to know the man very well. There’s nothing to compare other than the fact that I got the same number of wins.
“I got a little work to do. I’m 10 national championships short. I don’t think I’ll get that.”
Cal was able to grind Nevada down physically throughout the game, with senior center Richard Solomon contributing 14 points and five rebounds.
“We were able to move the ball,” Montgomery said. “We had a 19-to-6 assists-to-turnover ratio, which was pleasing. We got people rhythm shots and we made shots. We got six players in double figures and I think all of that was good.”
The Wolf Pack (4-6) was led in scoring by Deonte Burton with 26 points, just above his season average of 22.9 a game -- the 11th highest in the nation.
Burton was able to make backdoor cuts almost at will for most of the night, and scored 14 of his points on lay-ups or in the paint.
“We were going to switch one through four, but it became obvious that Deonte Burton, if he got one of the bigs on him … He’s a very, very explosive athlete,” Montgomery said. “We tried to fire the ball screen and we didn’t do a very good job. We’re having a hard time getting our post guys up aggressively.”
Fellow guard Jerry Evans, Jr. added in another 18 points, but Nevada was unable to sustain their efforts, after shooting 60% from the field in the first half, including a staggering 66.7% from three-point range.
“I thought that both teams offensively shot the ball very well, it was very even from that standpoint but they got more stops then we did. They outscored us,” said Nevada coach David Carter
At the half, Montgomery told his players that those numbers were flat out “unacceptable,” said freshman Jordan Mathews, who made his first career start after a 22-point outburst against UCSB last time out, and finished Tuesday with 13 on 4-of-8 shooting.
The Wolf Pack got out to an early lead, pushing the ball up the court and capitalizing on lackluster Cal defense in the opening minutes. Nevada also benefited from an early hot hand, with the team shooting 82% seven minutes into play.
“I watched Nevada shoot the ball in warmpus and watched them dunk and thought, ‘Oh, my God, they’re athletic,’ and they are,” Montgomery said. “They’re terrific athletes. They can score. They’re just not a great defensive team, and that’s what got them.”
The Wolf Pack were unable to maintain such offensive efficiency, as the Bears became much stingier defensively. With 9:30 remaining in the first half, Nevada held a 26-25 lead, but the Bears seized the lead for good 14 seconds later, scoring 24 points to the Wolf Pack’s 14 to end the half.
The Bears relied on some solid defense – including two blocks by Bird and Kravish in a single possession to force a shot clock violation with 7:13 left in the game – to widen the margin.
“We tried to fire the ball screen and we didn’t do a very good job,” Montgomery said. “We’re having a hard time getting our post guys up aggressively. Late in the game, we had one where we did it exactly right. We strung [Burton] out and trapped him and he came out and got a 35-second violation. That’s what we need to do. He wasn’t as good moving the ball out of a trap or a fire as he was when he’s got you one-on-one. There are still things we need to learn and get better at, but it was a nice win for us, and a good bounce-back.”
Nevada made things interesting, though, mustering a strong comeback throughout the second half, going on a few smaller runs before going on a 15-8 run to cut it to five with just nine minutes left., but the Bears responded with an 8-0 run of their own.
Although Cal struggled early, superior talent eventually allowed them win against a scrappy Nevada side. Still, this was a game the Golden Bears were always expected to win, and their defensive struggles against a lowly Wolf Pack side are sure to be cause for concern.
“We know we have the talent,” Cobbs said. “We just need to find our team chemistry. We’re playing well, but we’ll peak in January when conference starts.”