The Cal men’s basketball team’s tendency to start games slowly is not an aberration nor an anomaly. It’s now clear that starting games with early deficits is the Bears’ modus operandi — as routine for the team as showing up for games at all.
The Bears fell to an early 12-point deficit when they battled Washington (14-12, 6-7 Pac-12) -Saturday in Seattle. With 6:49 left in the first half, the Huskies had made four of eight 3-point attempts and had forced Cal to just 7-20 shooting. It looked like Washington would extend its undefeated record at home during Pac-12 play and that the Cal team’s habit of falling behind would come back to bite again.
But then the Bears (17-8, 8-4) started throttling the Huskies defensively and finished the half with a 19-2 run, including 17 straight points. Cal went into halftime with a 34-29 lead. In the second half, the Bears continued their strong play and cruised to a 72-59 lead.
“We got aggressive on defense and finally started getting some of the breaks,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery to Pac-12 Networks at halftime.
Cal’s run began with a defensive effort that forced the Huskies to turn the ball over 10 times in the first half. Those turnovers led to 14 points by Bears — often on fast breaks and easy layups.
Meanwhile, Washington’s early success from behind the arc didn’t last. The Huskies would go on to miss 13 3-point attempts in a row, finishing the game a lousy 4-21 from deep. C.J. Wilcox, Washington’s leading scorer, had a particularly difficult time finding the basket. Wilcox chucked six 3-pointers and missed on all of them. Even when he fought his way close to the rim, Wilcox struggled to put the ball through the hoop, finishing with just eight points off 4-12 shooting.
“We knew Wilcox could get going, so we really made an effort to stay with him and contest,” Montgomery said.
Justin Cobbs bottled Wilcox up defensively, forcing the guard to make plays that didn’t involve taking shots. Wilcox was often able to find outlets to his teammates when his own scoring potential was stifled, but the rest of the Huskies weren’t able to pick up the slack. The team as a whole made only 36 percent of its shots on the night.
Cobbs’ defensive effort, meanwhile, came during a game where he did little on the offensive end. The 10 points Cobbs scored are his lowest total since Cal played UC Irvine in early December, and he got those 10 points off just 3-11 shooting.
In Cobbs’ absence was Tyrone Wallace, who recorded 20 points — just one away from his career-high — off a variety of creative drives to the rim. Wallace was able to split Washington’s defense with lethal effectiveness and nabbed eight rebounds and four assists on the night.
Richard Solomon also helped carry the load for the Bears offensively, tacking on 18 points and seven boards. Solomon only missed three of his 11 shots on the night, although he was just 2-5 from the free-throw line.
Despite the early deficit, Cal built its lead to 13 in the second half with less than a minute and a half remaining. Washington, unable to score efficiently as well as failing to contain Wallace and Solomon, never even came close. After a first-half scare, the Bears rolled to their first sweep over the Washington schools since 2009.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Huskies had made four of eight free throw attempts. In fact, the Huskies had made four of eight 3-point attempts.