At a certain point late in the first half, the Denver offense pretty much just gave up.
As Denver point guard Cam Griffin jogged the ball after yet another Cal men’s basketball basket, the rest of the Pioneer offense stopped moving. Each player lingered in their respective perimeter location. There was no passing. There was no cutting. Griffin continued to dribble. After a few seconds, the Denver players halfheartedly jogged around, resigning back into their offense. By that point, it didn’t matter.
On their way to a 77-50 rout of Denver on Tuesday night at Haas Pavilion, the Cal defense refused to fall for the Pioneer’s tricky Princeton offense. Denver shot just 21% from the field in the first half, allowing the Bears to compile a comfortable 17 point halftime lead.
“I was pleased (with our defense),” head coach Mike Montgomery said. “I worried about, you know, all of the back cuts. The main thing against Denver is that you have to maintain your concentration. Generally speaking, we did not get burned on back cuts. We had pretty good defensive intensity, I think.”
Possession after possession, the Cal defense flummoxed the Pioneers’ offense, which was predicated on all five players frantically racing around the court in search of backdoor cuts. Bears’ guards ran through screens and blocked off passing lanes; post players effectively tracked their men out to the perimeter. Sometimes, they locked down in a 2-3 zone, forcing Denver into errant outside shots. Cal complimented their stingy defense with an equally solid performance on the offensive end, shooting 50.0% from the field in the victory.
David Kravish kicked off the accurate marksmanship with a turnaround jumper on the opening possession of the game. The Bears simply kept feeding the lanky forward in the post, exploiting the dearth of height in the Denver front court. Kravish picked up nine quick points in the opening minutes, using his 6’9” frame to back down and shoot over the top of whichever defender happened to switch onto him.
“They were just giving me the ball,” Kravish said. “We wanted to focus on getting the ball inside and we took advantage of them switching.”
After a Tyrone Wallace layup with 13:12 in the first half, Cal led 13-2. The sophomore finished with a team-high 16 points. The Bears’ lead did not dip below double digits for the rest of the game.
“Tyrone’s playing good,” Montgomery said. “He’s a good rebounder, good at getting to the basket. He’s a big strong guard.”
Wallace and the rest of his perimeter cohorts kept the Pioneers from closing the gap with their three-point shooting, closing out every single long-range look. Their efforts contributed to Denver’s woeful 15.3% shooting from long range in the first half.
Richard Solomon made sure the Pioneers didn’t pick up any second chances, gobbling up 16 rebounds, a career high.
“I was just putting myself in position to get the rebound, jumping as high as I can,” Solomon said. “They just keep coming at me. It’s kinda easy when they just fall into your hands.”
The only scary moment for the Bears occurred when Justin Cobbs crawled off the court clutching his knee after a collision with a Denver defender. The senior guard needed help walking off the court, but Montgomery assured reporters following the game that Cobbs would be ready to play in Friday’s game against Oakland.