BERKELEY, CA – The California men's basketball team rebounded from a bad defeat against previously ranked Creighton, to defeat the Furman Paladins 90-60 in the team's final non-conference game. Despite the absence of key guards Ricky Kreklow and Jabari Bird, the Bears took care of the Southern Conference minnows to stay undefeated in Haas Pavilion and end 2013 on a high note.
"It was just what the doctor ordered," said Cal Head Coach Mike Montgomery. "We needed some feel good. We kind of got beaten down here lately with Ricky [Kreklow] and Jabari [Bird] going down. Creighton handled us pretty well. We needed some positive reinforcement to feel a bit better about ourselves. That's what tonight provided for us."
Cal (8-4) had to change their rotation again with injuries piling up, starting with Tyrone Wallace and Jordan Matthews at the guard positions next to point guard Justin Cobbs. The Bears were also aided by the play of veteran forward Richard Solomon, as he added another double double to his season total with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Another 18 points were added by fifth year senior Cobbs, and by Tyrone Wallace, as the guards picked up the slack from the injured Bears.
"Justin is one of the better players in the league," said Montgomery. "He can score the ball. He wants to have a good assist to turnover ratio and he doesn't want to be selfish. But at the same time, given our circumstances right now with the injury situation, he has to score the ball for us. He came back after Christmas in the first shooting drill and he was really going after it and the ball was coming out of his hands nicely. It makes us that much better if he can score the ball.
This was the third game in the last four where Cal had at least four scorers in double figures, showing there total dominance over the weaker opposition and their great ball movement.
"I think we moved the ball well," said Guard Justin Cobbs. "These last few practice day we had an emphasis on making the extra pass and as a team making each other better because a lot of times we were going one-on-one and shooting a lot of tough shots so I think today the ball was really moving. Jeff was able to knock down shots, Jordan knocked down shots, Ty hit a few shots and was around the basket. So I think when we move the ball and play as a team and really don't care who gets the shot as long as we get the shot we want, we're way more effective."
Cal was able to outshoot the Paladins, shooting 61% from the field for the game as opposed to Furman's 41%. Forward David Kravish added 8, and usual benchwarmer Jeff Powers made the most of his teammates injuries by adding 18 points, and 6-7 from three.
"If somebody watched the game and scouted they'd say we need to guard [Jeff], we can shoot it," said Montgomery. "It means now that the floor is more open for other people to move because they need to guard him. Creighton just packed the box. They put everybody in the paint and dared us. Nobody was scoring the ball. Jeff is a good shooter. I don't want to say that he's going to go six for seven every night. The ball was delivered on time and he was in rhythm and that was nice to see."
The Paladins were led by guards Larry Wideman, who added 11 points, and William Gates Jr., who contributed another 13 points. Furman struggled from the field in general, shooting 41% from the field, 43% from three and just 67% from the free throw line, but struggled even more in trying to stop the rampant California offense.
"We scored, but, the team is not committed to playing defense and that's a problem," said Furman Head Coach Nike Medved. "Until we are ready, we are going to have nights like this. I was disappointed. We came out of the locker room and started scoring but I thought our defensive transition was bad and we didn't guard the ball. We were just trading baskets early in the second half. That's what is disappointing because we had a chance to guard, and we could have had a chance to run and cut the lead a little bit. I'm really, really disappointed in our defensive effort."
Cal got out to an early lead, starting the game on an 11-4 run before the first TV timeout, with Cobbs alone scoring 6. The Bears defense also suffocated the Paladins offense, forcing 8 turnovers in the first half and gaining 13 fast break points.
"I talked with coach after the Creighton game and he really talked about ‘we need you to score'," said Cobbs. "For the past few games, I've been deferring a little bit and facilitating, but going into conference I need to pick it up and just lead this team in any way possible and I'm really going to look to start being a little bit more aggressive on offense and still try to facilitate. I'm going to put emphasis on being aggressive on offense."
But then another sign of bad news appeared for the Bears, as freshman Jordan Matthews went down with a sprained ankle, an addition to the growing injury list. However, he did return to start the second half, indicating the injury wasn't too serious.
Solomon left the game early in the first half after picking up two quick fouls, but even the Bears back up bigs were too long for the Paladins.
"Sometimes we drove it in there and it didn't go our way so we got frustrated which then effected out defensive transition," said Medved. "They were able to score quickly on us, and we weren't really able to recover."
At the 12-minute mark, the Bears took a ten-point lead, and never looked back, extending the margin throughout the game. Throughout the rest of the first half, Cal dominated the paint, scoring 22 points inside, and blocking four shots. The Bears didn't even have their first turnover until 6 minutes were left in the first half.
As the first half wound down, the Bears continued their dominance, extending their lead with run after run until they made it to halftime with an 18-point lead. When Furman looked like they had a chance to climb back into the game after a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 12, the Bears re-established their dominance to extend the lead to 43-25 at the break.
The second half was much like the first, with many easy baskets for the Bear's starting lineup. However, in the early going the Furman held their own, trading buckets with the Cal squad. But slowly, the Bears reasserted their dominance and grew the lead.
The Bears then ended the game on a 35-20 run over the last 14 minutes, leading them to a 90-60 win.
While this was always a game that Cal was supposed to win, they demonstrated an absolutely dominating performance against a struggling Furman team, which gives them a needed boost as they head into a difficult string of Pac-12 conference games. As they try to reach the top of a strong conference, they'll need to repeat performances like todays if they hope to reach the NCAA tournament.
"I think today was a big step for us, just in the aspect of confidence," said Cobbs. "Looking at the stat sheet everybody was shooting over 60 percent in the field…a lot of guys were making shots today. Just in an aspect of confidence going in, we're making shots, we're getting shots, and we're doing the little things. Jeff took a charge, and we're doing all the right things moving the ball. I think going into conference, we're going in with a little feel good, a little confidence. So now, we know how tough the conference is …just get everyone you can and make sure you protect home court and take it from there."
California loses Jabari Bird late in the first half, and Doug McDermott takes advantage of short…