By the time Cal point guard Tyrone Wallace kicked out a perfect pass to guard Jordan Mathews with less than 10 minutes left to play Monday night, the game was already over.
Mathews quickly collected and released, sending the ball looping into the basket from outside the arc. The shot would give the junior his third 3-pointer of the evening and bring No. 14 Cal men’s basketball’s lead to 77-46 over Carroll at Haas Pavilion. Shooting 44.8 percent from the perimeter, the Bears would finish out the remaining minutes in a similar fashion, ultimately logging a 93-58 win over their NAIA opponent in their first and only exhibition game of the season.
From the start, it was clear that Cal was in a different league.
The Bears started with a smaller lineup against the undersized Fighting Saints — whose tallest player tops out at only 6-foot-8 — bringing out three traditional guards in Jabari Bird, Mathews and Wallace. Meanwhile, forwards Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown rounded out the rest of the starting roster.
But even without the Bears’ tallest players on the court, the height difference between the two teams immediately became apparent when Rabb, at 6-foot-11, easily got the tip-off and, just seconds later, found himself perfectly positioned under the basket to receive a dish from Wallace. Rabb took the shot and was fouled for the and-one opportunity. To the elation of the home crowd, the freshman easily sank the shot to give Cal the first points of the game.
A few moments of sloppiness, however, led to a brief counter by Carroll in the opening minutes. Highlighted by a perimeter basket and field goal from freshman guard Sam McMahon in the first minutes of the game, the Fighting Saints briefly enjoyed a two-possession advantage over the Bears at 7-3.
That would essentially be the last time the Bears saw from their preseason opponent.
Seconds later, Brown downed a shot from outside the arc to put the Bears behind by just one, and a second three from Mathews after a turnover on the other end put his team up for the first time since opening tip-off.
From then on, it wouldn’t be much of a contest. Using their size to convert again and again on offense, the Bears eviscerated their opponent’s defense in the paint and went on a 14-0 run to bring their lead to a dominant 23-7 edge. By the second media timeout, the squad was mostly operating with its second-string players, with guard Stephen Domingo and forward Roger Moute a Bidias each logging significant minutes in the first half.
When any of the Bears’ starting five were on the floor, however, they made it known. Having registered only about 10 minutes apiece in the first half, the trio of Rabb, Brown and Wallace had each notched 10 points or more by the time the clock wound down to close out the frame. Leading that group with 13 points, Rabb consistently found space in the lane that made it look as if there were no one else there, eventually finishing out, 5-9, from the paint before the buzzer sounded and leading the Bears to a 52-26 advantage.
The second half would tell a similar story. Bringing out its starting roster once again, Cal came out strong in its first minutes of the frame, quickly going up, 56-29. And while the squad would slow down after bringing in several players off the bench, the Bears kept a comfortable advantage throughout the remainder of the game despite the heroics of Carroll forward Oliver Carr, who finished with 21 points for the Fighting Saints.
“We’re a young team. We have a lot of athleticism but a lot of young guys, so we have time to grow,” Brown said. “It’s a long season, so we’re going to take it day by day, and hopefully we’ll get better each step of the way.”
Dani Jo Coony covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].