Cal men’s basketball cruises past Coppin State, 83-64, in first game of season

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In what amounted to a glorified exhibition, the few and proud Cal men’s basketball fans littering the Haas Pavilion kept their eyes glued to the court for one reason: Tyrone Wallace.

Wallace, a combo guard, impressed with his athleticism and on-ball defending last season. As it usually goes with promising and raw guards, people wondered how good this guy could be if only he added a reliable jumper and dribble.

By the end of the first half, there was no need to wonder. Wallace put together a thunderous first 20 minutes, pouring in 13 points and three 3-pointers to help the Bears race out to a 16-point halftime lead. The sophomore finished with 20 points, six rebounds and seven assists, leading Cal to a comfortable 83-64 win against Coppin State on Friday night.

“I thought we had five or six guys play pretty well,” said head coach Mike Montgomery. “Probably the most pleasing thing was a 23-to-7 assist to turnover ratio. That means we’re sharing the ball.”

Wallace wasn’t the only pleasant surprise for Montgomery’s squad. Highly touted freshman Jabari Bird looked tentative in his first few minutes on the floor but soon found his groove after knocking down a wide-open catch-and-shoot 3-pointer with 6:27 remaining in the first quarter. He finished with 14 points and seven boards.

“It’s obvious Bird can do the spectacular,” Montgomery said. “He can bring people out of his seats. It’s the everyday plays we need him to understand the value of.”

Jordan Matthews, who lurked in Bird’s shadow during all of the recruiting hullaballoo, came out ready to attack from the moment he stepped on the court. On the way to a six-point, four-rebound performance, Matthews flashed both a physical dribble-drive game and a sweet stroke from deep.

“We’re going to have to be patient,” Montgomery said. “We’re trying to work five freshmen into the lineup. They’re going to make mistakes; they’re going to learn.”

Meanwhile, senior Richard Solomon provided the interior defense. Solomon nimbly maneuvered between the post and the perimeter with the agility of a guard.

His stellar presence in the post allowed Wallace and Kreklow to aggressively harass the Coppin State guards on the perimeter, leading to a 33.3 percent shooting performance from the Eagles.

The Bears showed no struggles of their own in the shooting department. Advertised as subpar from distance, they shot 34.6 percent from the three-point line.

Kreklow led the way from 3-point land from the tip, hitting two within the first four minutes of the game. His second gifted Cal a 13-8 lead — one the team wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the game.

The lead ballooned to double digits in a flash midway through the first quarter.

After a Matthews three, Coppin State guard Daquan Brickhouse bricked a three that led to a Richard Solomon fast break dunk on the other end, granting the Bears a 22-13 lead with 9:16 left in the first half.

Matthews took over from there, drawing shooting fouls on back-to-back possessions and sinking three of his four three throws. The lead never dipped below double digits for the rest of the game.

“We’re good in transition,” Montgomery said. “I think guys move the ball pretty well and obviously if you get rewarded for running you’re going to continue to run.”

Michael Rosen covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @michaelrosen3.