Just about as soon as Jabari Bird went down, Doug McDermott took off.
With five minutes left in the first half, Bird found himself backpedaling in transition defense for Cal near the paint after an errant Sam Singer jumper. Glancing to his right, he saw Creighton’s Devin Brooks preparing to toss up a short jumper near the basket. Bird soared in the air for the rebound but mistimed his jump. His ankle twisted awkwardly as he came in contact with the ground. The freshman hobbled off the court, a trainer on each arm, unable to put any weight on his right foot. He would not return for the rest of the game.
In his absence, the Bluejays embarked on a 10-3 run to end the half and stretched the lead to double digits. The lead would prove to be insurmountable. On Sunday afternoon at the CenturyLink Center, the Cal men’s basketball team fell to No. 20 Creighton, 68-54, in Omaha, Neb.
When Bird exited the game, Cal (8-4) was within four. By the end of the half, the deficit had grown to eleven. The Bears have McDermott to thank for that.
Subbed in at the same time that Bird was subbed out, the All-American senior went to work on the Cal defense from the moment his shoes hit the floor. With just under three minutes left in the half, McDermott caught the ball on the left block. With only point guard Justin Cobbs between him and the basket, the forward spun to his left and finished with an easy layup.
On the next possession, McDermott, his back to the basket once more, was isolated, with Bears forward Richard Solomon on the midrange baseline. Solomon, wary of a rim attack, allowed McDermott the tiniest sliver of room. McDermott took advantage, spinning around and sinking a jumper to give the Bluejays (9-2) a nine-point advantage.
The lead grew even wider in the second half. McDermott continued to pose matchup problems for a Cal defense burdened by the loss of both Bird and junior Ricky Kreklow. The 6-foot-8 McDermott knocked down fadeaways and long two-pointers. He found wide-open layups off backdoor baseline cuts and spin moves in the post. Cal simply didn’t have an answer for the National Player of the Year candidate, who finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds.