Cal men’s basketball wins third straight against Seattle

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Lianne Frick/File

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After recent tough losses to Central Arkansas, Chaminade and St. Mary’s, the Cal men’s basketball team (6-6) was no doubt wishing for some wins this holiday season. And beginning Dec. 9, that wish appeared to come true — with a tight win against San Diego State followed by another against Cal State Fullerton it appeared that the Bears’ luck had changed. Less than a week before Christmas, it continued to hold, and Cal triumphed over Seattle on the road, 81-59.

It’s become clear that the Bears, depending on the game, are one of two teams. They are either hot from the outside, scoring countless threes on the backs of streaky shooting guards, or they are a fast-break team that works the ball inside and finishes at the rim. For most of the season, they haven’t mixed these two forms of offensive generation, and against Seattle, the trend was no different.

In the first half, the Bears went just 1 of 7 from beyond the arc, but despite their poor outside shooting, they were still able to emerge from the first 20 minutes with a 6-point lead, 34-28. That lead was a result of the 22 points in the paint that Cal scored in the first half alone. Many of the shots came from quick transitions and faster ball movement on offense, along with aggression in and around the rim that lead to ample second-chance opportunities.

Their aptitude down low was somewhat surprising given the fact that the Bears started with a small lineup again, opting to start just senior big man Marcus Lee along with four guards and forwards. But those guards boosted the Bears’ perimeter ball rotation, allowing them to cut to the basket much quicker, which produced more open looks in and around the rim.

While they managed to emerge with a lead, the Bears’ road to building it was not a smooth one. There were seven lead changes throughout the first 20 minutes, and Seattle found success against Cal’s zone defense early on. The Redhawks dribbled to the middle and found the open outlet pass to pull the Bears out of position. The rotation for Cal’s zone eventually became used to the dribble-drive and neutralized it as the half went on.

The Bears’ first half was carried by junior Don Coleman and freshman Justice Sueing, who had 10 and 9 points in the half, respectively.

Despite an initial push by Seattle at the beginning of the second half, the Bears earned themselves a double-digit lead, going up 50-37 with a little more than 13 minutes remaining in the game. Cal continued to feed the ball in down low, making use of big men seniors Kingsley Okoroh and Lee as the Bears’ guards continued to drive and dish.

While Seattle began to press Cal in the waning minutes of the game, the Bears kept their offensive composure. Cal easily broke down the press and generated fast-break points off of it, which stretched its lead and resulted in a resounding 81-59 win. The second-to-last game before Christmas saw three Cal players score at least 16 points, with freshman Darius McNeill leading the pack at 20. After a home match-up against Portland State on Thursday, the Bears will have a short break ahead of them before they begin conference play. Cal will look to extend its win streak to four before kicking off Pac-12 competition.

Sophie Goethals covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]