BERKELEY – After a poor defensive effort against Nevada, the California basketball team buckled down and showed their dominance on the defensive end of the court in a 67-56 win Saturday afternoon against Fresno State. However, an inconsistent offensive performance meant that the Golden Bears came out as only narrow victors against the Mountain West contenders, and will likely be another source of concern for the team.
Cal (8-3) changed its starting line up yet again, with guard Tyrone Wallace replacing freshman Jordan Matthews. The Bears were led by veteran forward Richard Solomon, who dominated inside against the shorter opposition, as he added a game high 17 points and 14 rebounds. Another 13 points were added by fifth-year senior Justin Cobbs, who moved up one spot on Cal’s all-time scoring list, to 34th, with 1,075 career points.
“I was just trying to take my time and then just make the right play. They weren’t as big down low,” said Solomon. “Coach wanted us to go down to me and [David Kravish], and just see if we could take advantage of that.”
This represented the second consecutive game where Cal has had at least 4 scorers in double figures, and showcased the excellent passing and unselfishness they’ve shown all season.
“It was pretty good. I think we just started the game playing more defense,” said Solomon. “[We were] trying to get out in transition, trying to get stops first. I think when you focus on the defense than the offense just comes. “
Cal was able to outshoot the Bulldogs, shooting 43% from the field. Wallace added 12 points, and Ricky Kreklow added 11, rounding out the players in double figures.
“For selfish reasons, the ball can get sticky on offense cause we’re looking for the next thing to do because it’s just not flowing into it,” said Kreklow. “There were spurts where we kind of get back on rhythm, but it was one of those games where it was going to be tough to do so. It was good that we had the big guys to go down low for more reliable, high percentage shots.”
The Bulldogs (6-5) were led by guard Marvelle Harris, who notched 13 points and five rebounds -- far below his season averages in both categories.
[ANALYSIS: Not So Marvelle-ous]
“We didn’t do anything in particular. We switched,” said head coach Mike Montgomery. “I think he’s definitely an undersized guy, and a lot of the things he gets, you know he’s against a guy his size. When we switched out a bigger player on him, then he still had to shoot over a 6-10 player. I thought maybe he just got a little bit frustrated and then things just didn’t go down for him. They missed a lot of shots, there’s no doubt about that. “
Apart from Harris, Fresno State struggled from the field, with the Cal defense suffocating their offense. The Bulldogs shot 33% from the field and were only able to add 25% from three.
“Well I definitely thought we made some strides defensively, we worked on that all week. I said to the guys a little while ago that in order to be a quality opponent and a good team on the road, you can’t leave those fifty-fifty balls out there,” said Fresno State coach Rodney Terry. “That was the one area we lost the game in term of. We gave up way too many fifty-fifty balls, they came up with all those balls, Cal broke our backs to keep possessions, and we’ve got to make our free throws. Free throws were very critical tonight and we left some of those on the board that we have to try to make.”
Cal got out to an early lead forcing two turnovers to start the game on an 8-0 run.
Fresno State struggled greatly offensively, and failed to muster their first basket until the 16:10 mark in the first half. Cal took advantage of the Bulldogs poor play, shooting 35.3%, almost ten points higher, in the first half.
“Sometimes you got to win with defense, and sometimes maybe you can win with your offense,” said Montgomery. “I thought tonight was a night when it was a little bit disjointed for both teams, but we were able defensively to do a real good job. Hold them to 32 percent from the floor, and 25 percent from three.”
However, as the first half wound down, the game came down to a matching of runs. The Bulldogs mustered strong comebacks twice. With an 8-4 run at the eight-minute mark of the first half, Fresno State closed the gap to four points. However, Cal answered with a quick 8-0 run themselves to go to 22-10 with 6 minutes to go. Fresno State responded finished the half on a 6-1 run to get to halftime down 7 points, 28-21.
However, for all the Fresno runs, Cal never lost the lead, taking the lead in the first minute and keeping it for all 40.
“It wasn’t pretty in a lot of ways,” said Montgomery. “A lot of mistakes I thought, too many mistakes, but defensively I thought we were good. I thought we followed the game plan, what we set out to do.”
Cal struggled early in the second half, with Fresno State’s zone defense hurting the poor shooting Bears, and shortening the lead to three. The Bears defense also appeared to turn off early in the second half, with the Bulldog guards cutting through the lane at will. The Bulldogs cut it to two with 15 minutes left and kept it relatively close throughout the rest of the half.
However, that’s when the Bears magically turned into their first half selves and stopped Fresno State’s key possessions. Their increased defensive presence led to an impressive 33-24 run over the last 11 minutes of the game.
While it was clear the Bears defense had drastically improved from the last game, their overall play was lacking, struggling to assert their full authority against a downtrodden Fresno State side. The Bears cannot complain about another win, but as they head into tough Pac-12 play, it’s become clear they will need to improve to compete for the conference title.