From the school that brought you 138 man-games lost to injury on the gridiron, comes now what seems to be a repeat performance on the hardwood. After California redshirt junior Ricky Kreklow broke his hand prior to Sunday’s clash with Creighton, the Bears lost both Jabari Bird and Richard Solomon during the course of a 68-54 loss to the Blue Jays in Omaha, Neb.
UPDATE 7:40 PM: Bird has a sprained right ankle, according to a Cal rep.
Without Kreklow – who defended Blue Jays star Doug McDermott last year – Cal still managed to keep the senior All-America candidate in check, and were as close as two points late in the first half, but then, the fates intervened.
"Ricky would have been another alternative defending McDermott, because he’s tough, and those two would have gone at it pretty good," head coach Mike Montgomery said. "It certainly hurt us, but that wasn’t the ultimate problem. The guys that were playing are guys that have to make shots, and they didn’t make shots.”
With 5:02 left in the first half, Bird came down hard on teammate David Kravish’s foot, and his right foot collapsed inwards as his ankle took a gruesome turn. Bird was on the floor for several moments, face contorted in pain, and once hoisted upright, he gingerly hopped on his left foot off the court, assisted by the training staff.
From there, Creighton went on a 10-3 run to end the half, putting the Blue Jays well on their way to a 30-19 halftime lead – the third time the Bears had trailed at the break this season.
"Bird started and Kreklow typically was your starter, so you’ve lost two guys that were theoretically your starters," Montgomery said. "As poorly as we shot the ball, it looked like maybe Bird was going to have it going a little bit. He had a nice three with good rotation, he hit another one in traffic, so of all of the guys that were playing on the perimeter, he was the one guy that was 2-for-4, and generally, when Jabari gets going like that, then he can make shots. Now, you’ve lost the one guy. Jordan goes in and was 2-for-9 and he’s been one of our better shooters, Sam was 0-for-3, Ty was 4-for-12. It really hurt us."
With Cal down, 60-44, injury woes continued to add up, as Solomon -- limited to six points and six boards in 27 minutes -- limped off, favoring his left leg, joining a booted Bird on the bench with 3:44 remaining.
"I don't think it was very serious," said Montgomery. "I think he will be fine, coming back after Christmas."
Cal next plays on Dec. 28 at home against Furman.
Solomon had issues with double and triple teams all evening, which visibly frustrated him on a night where, without Bird and Kreklow, he needed to be dominant.
"We had actually prepared for it," Montgomery said. "I wouldn’t say that we handled it very cleanly, but we had prepared for it. We had seen them, depending on who McDermott was defending, they definitely tried to monster the post – McDermott’s guy – we knew that. We actually have a scheme that’s actually pretty proven; you’ve just got to execute it, and we didn’t do that. So, Richard got frustrated. We came out once to the wrong guy, came out a second time and threw it over his head, and we could have made them pay, had we done what we were supposed to do, but that’s where we’re just not quite there yet, offensively.”
Bird scored five points and tallied four rebounds before going down, and without his spark (and 12 points per game average), the Bears (8-4) quickly lost much of their edge on offense. Cal went 1-for-4 from the floor to close out the first stanza, and all three misses came on three-point attempts, as the Bears tried to close the ever-widening gap.
“We’ve got some work to do just to get in an offensive rhythm, so that guys that maybe are not great shooters – but they can be good shooters just based on when, where, knowing how the ball’s going to get to them and so forth, but we really struggled a bit to move the ball, to get people in position to make plays," Montgomery said.
Cal shot 36.4% from the field (20-for-55) and 20.8% (5-for-24) from beyond the arc. Perhaps more alarming was the free-throw percentage: 60.0% (9-for-15), with Solomon shooting just 2-of-5, and only two other players even taking a toss from the charity stripe -- senior point Justin Cobbs, who went 5-for-7, and Tyrone Wallace, who went 2-for-3.
Before Bird went down, McDermott was just 1-for-6 from the field, but once Kravish – who sat early with two fouls – could not switch off of McDermott with Bird, he couldn’t play as aggressively as he had early. The Blue Jays (9-2) kept feeding McDermott through the last of the first half, and it paid off, as he went 3-for-4 from the field. McDermott continued to get more varied looks after the break, and scored 16 of his game-high 20 points after Bird went down.
The 6-foot-8 forward provided so many different looks for the Cal defense that the Blue Jays were able to go to other open options like Ethan Wragge, who went 3-for-7 from beyond the three-point arc. Guard Austin Chatman scored nine of his 11 total points after the break. Eight of the nine Blue Jays who saw time on the court scored at least three points. Senior guard Grant Gibbs went 4-for-7 from the floor for 10 points, and pulled down six boards.
“Defensively, we were pretty good, and even the ones [McDermott] got late were pretty tough shots – a step-back over a big defender – it wasn’t like he was being guarded necessarily by a guard, but he had to step back, and he’s just got such great touch, and the one thing about him is that he doesn’t force it," Montgomery said. "He moves the ball. We talked a lot about him and how he positions himself. We did a pretty good job that way, and getting help and so-forth. They hit a couple threes that felt like maybe you have to give them up, but if you’re going to defend McDermott, get help on him or stay on Wragge. The point guard hit a couple and [Jahenns] Manigat hit one, I think, and then one other kid – [Isaiah] Zierden – we knew those guys were shooters. We had the tendencies of each of their guys, it’s just that they kept moving around and pretty soon, maybe you forget that this guy is a shooter and this guy is a shooter and this guy was the helper. Gibbs hurt us.”
The Bears, though, didn’t have many more options beyond the freshmen, and indeed, Montgomery played the entirety of the 2013 signing class by the time 13 minutes had ticked off in the opening stanza. All said, Sam Singer, Kameron Rooks, Jordan Mathews and Roger Moute a Bidias combined for 59 minutes on the floor. Mathews scored five points on 2-of-9 shooting and 1-for-6 from three-point range. Rooks scored two, hitting the only shot he took.
Cal’s top two scorers – Cobbs (13 points) and Wallace (12 points) were just five points better than McDermott alone, and just one other Bear scored in double figures -- Kravish, who scored 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including his second three-point field goal of the season.
-- The Bears are now 2-2 in the all-time series with Creighton.
It was Cal’s first loss in three games on the road against Creighton in the series.
-- The 54 points at Creighton is the lowest point total for Cal since scoring 48 against Oregon in a 48-46 victory over the Ducks in Eugene, Ore. on Feb. 21, 2013.
-- The 19 first-half points was the lowest by the Bears in any half since Jan. 27, 2013 when they recorded 18 points in the first period at Colorado.
-- With 13 points, Cobbs moved up to 32nd place on Cal’s all-time scoring list with 1,090 career points in 79 career games at Cal. He moved past Ed Gray (1,082 points from 1996-97) and Ryan Drew (1,086 points from 1988-91) with his performance on Sunday against the Bluejays.
-- With four assists, Cobbs became the seventh Golden Bear in school history to record 400 career assists. He now has 401 career assists in 79 career games at Cal.
-- With 12 points against Creighton, Wallace has scored in double figures in each of the last three games after posting two double-digit scoring performances in the first nine contests. Wallace posted 14 points against Nevada and 12 in the previous contest against Fresno State.
-- Singer played a season-long 20 minutes (previous long was 15 vs. Southern Utah) and posted a season-best four assists.