Senior guard Grant Mullins pokes the ball away from Cal Poly’s Victor Joseph, and freshman point guard Charlie Moore collects the loose ball. He accelerates past the defense toward the other end of the court, finishing with an easy layup.
As the Mustangs advance the ball, senior guard Sam Singer intercepts an errant pass for another easy layup.
The Bears’ tenacious defense helped them end the first half on a 13-0 run, from which Cal Poly was unable to recover. With an 81-55 victory, Cal men’s basketball (9-2) set a program record for its longest home win streak, now at 27.
As soon as the game tipped off, the Bears set the tone defensively by holding the Mustangs scoreless for the first five minutes of the half. By communicating well on screens and playing physically, Cal was able to force Cal Poly to take contested looks late in the shot clock. Its stringent defense propelled it to a 10-3 lead before Cal Poly stormed back with some hot shooting from long range. The Mustangs hit three triples in a row to kick off an 11-2 run and build a six point lead, 19-13.
On offense, Cal — a team that’s lacked strong three-point shooting so far this season — finished the half shooting 3/6 from distance. With strong performances from players outside of Cal’s two most consistent performers on offense, Ivan Rabb and Charlie Moore, the Bears managed to retake the lead and finish the half strongly. Guard Stephen Domingo had a career highlight reel-worthy sequence that involved him getting a block on defense and running back on offense to catch a pass in the right corner for an open three.
Rabb showcased his offensive arsenal in the first half as well. He finished an alley-oop dunk off a lob from Moore driving baseline on one play and used crafty footwork in the post to outwork a defender on the next. He led the Bears to a double-digit lead at the half, 34-22, with 11 points on 4/6 shooting.
In the second half, senior guard Jabari Bird took the reins on offense. Bird scored 14 of the Bears’ first 29 points in the second half on an extremely efficient 6/7 shooting — including two three-pointers. By the end of the game, Bird finished with 25 points, converting on 10 of his 16 shot attempts.
Prior to this game, the Bears’ offense this season lacked the necessary perimeter shooting to complement Rabb’s inside game and Moore’s slashing ability. But tonight was a different story. Cal’s emphasis on ball movement generated open perimeter shots for players like Domingo, Singer and Roger Moute a Bidias, and they all had strong shooting performances to combine for 3/5 shooting from deep. Mullins, who was held without a point for the majority of the game, chipped in with his own three-pointer.
As the Bears prepare for the rigors of Pac-12 play, they’ll need to maintain the defensive identity they’ve established over their non-conference opponents. And now that they’re healthy, if they want to keep up with offensive powerhouses like Arizona and UCLA, they’ll need their perimeter threats to stay hot.
Kapil Kashyap covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]