For the briefest of moments, it looked like a real contest.
The Cal men’s basketball team looked sluggish as ever for the first five minutes of Wednesday night’s game against Washington, shooting just 1-for-7 from the field and struggling to move the ball on offense. Meanwhile, the Huskies flexed their superior athleticism in transition, turning errant Cal shots into a couple of easy buckets. The Bears trailed 8-2 and seemed to be in danger of losing their first Pac-12 contest of the season.
And then, the Bears just refused to let the Huskies score. Thanks to a stingy first-half defensive performance and an explosive second-half offensive performance, Cal squashed Washington, 82-56, at Haas Pavilion on Wednesday night. The Bears were led by their forwards as Richard Solomon and David Kravish both racked up double-doubles. Solomon finished with 13 points and 12 boards, while Kravish scored 11 and pulled down 11 rebounds.
“We missed some really easy shots early,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery. “Once we got going a little bit, Jeff (Powers) hit a couple. Defensively, we were pretty consistent. The second thing we did really well was we also had a 15-1 assist-to-turnover in the second half. It was really good. The ball was moving.”
On offense, Cal (13-4, 4-0 Pac-12) patiently climbed back from a slow start. An off-the-dribble Tyrone Wallace three-pointer gave Cal a 9-8 lead with 13 minutes left in the first half. Christian Behrens put some English on a reverse lay-up to finish, and Powers knocked down a three-pointer. In all, Powers went 3-for-4 from downtown. The Bears weren’t exactly rolling, but they were doing enough to capitalize on some of their most impressive rim protection of the season.
Any time one of the Huskies’ athletic guards found a lane to the basket, Solomon and Kravish were there to either change or block the shot. Kravish tallied four blocks, and Solomon finished with one. When Washington (11-7, 3-2) discovered all lanes to the basket were closed off, it started settling for jumpers. Those didn’t fall either. Over a 10-minute stretch, the Huskies made just one field goal. By the point CJ Wilcox hit a lay-up with 1:30 left in the first half, the Bears led 30-17. Washington would not score for the rest of the half.
“I think that the kids really understood the game plan,” Montgomery said. “Defensively, they did a really good job. Justin (Cobbs) was really good on Wilcox. Wilcox ended up with 18, but a lot of that stuff was late. He did a terrific job. I think our big guys are causing some people problems inside. They beat us at point of attack, but both Richard (Solomon) and David (Kravish) are in there.”
A comfortable lead ballooned into a blowout midway through the final 20 minutes. Just as Wilcox nailed a deep three to close the UW deficit to 47-31, Cobbs, who finished with 11 points, responded with a fadeaway jumper to clip the short Huskies run.
Two possessions later, Kravish found Powers on the left wing with a UW defender in his face. Sensing a foul coming, Powers tossed up a wild three-pointer with hopes of earning three free throws. Only one was given, because Powers’ shot caromed high off the glass and into the basket, giving the senior a four-point play. Up 21 with 11 minutes left, the Bears never looked back.
“I think we’ve had some difficulties when the ball is not going down sometimes or not being passed, and we don’t defend as well,” Montgomery said. “Tonight, we made our minds up. Hopefully, we’re getting the notion that if we defend well, it’s going to make a difference and allow us to get out on the break.”