No. 14 Cal men’s basketball crushes Sam Houston State, 89-63

Michael Wan/Staff

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Guard Tyrone Wallace held the ball at triple threat and probed the defense to start the second half. Realizing Sam Houston State’s perimeter defenders were wary of post-ups and drives to the rim, Wallace fired a cross-court pass to guard Jordan Mathews spotting up in the left corner, who proceeded to drain the 3-point jumper. And that was the story for Sam Houston State all night long against the Bears: futilely trying to deny the middle by collapsing defenders into the paint only for Cal’s wings to find creases in the defense for drives and passes to open spot-up shooters.

After dispatching a surprisingly resilient East Carolina on Friday night, 70-62, No. 14 Cal men’s basketball (4-0) captured its second win of the Las Vegas Invitational in a 89-63 rout of Sam Houston State (1-3). Forward Jaylen Brown led the Bears with his best all-around performance of the season with 18 points on 10 shots, 11 rebounds and four assists.

“I thought it was our best game on both ends of the floor,” said Cal men’s basketball head coach Cuonzo Martin. “They’re a really good team as far as spreading you out and attacking the rim. The way the game was officiated, we talked a lot about high hands. I thought we did a good job on preparation and being ready to play.”

The Bears pushed the ball hard and often in transition off turnovers and, even more so, missed shots. Brown proved especially dangerous in transition, as he was fouled multiple times driving to the rim off his four early rebounds in the first five minutes of the contest. Cal was content finding opportunities when the squad pushed the ball and letting the Bearkats shoot jumpers off the pick-and-roll.

But Cal’s strategy conceding jump shots worked against the squad in the early going, as Sam Houston State made three of its first five field goals — two of them well-contested shots from 15 feet and out. Trailing, 7-2, Mathews then caught his defender cheating off him and drained a 3-pointer. After the Bearkats turned the ball over the following possession, Brown pushed the ball as the defense was scrambling and found Mathews spotting up in the same corner. He proceeded to drain another shot from behind the arc to give Cal the one-point lead, 8-7, four minutes into the game. The Bears never looked back after the bucket as they continued to relentlessly attack the basket and play stingy perimeter defense.

Poking the ball at every dribble and keeping their hands in the passing lanes, Cal’s athletic wings wore down the Bearkats’ ball handlers as the half progressed. The Bears took advantage of every errant pass as Brown deflected a routine dish on the left wing by Sam Houston State guard Josh Delaney, which led to a lob to Wallace in transition for the 27-20 lead. The very next possession, Delaney threw another ill-timed pass, leading to a steal by Wallace, who found Brown for the slam. Wallace led the Bears at the half with 10 points, while Brown contributed eight points — without missing a shot from the field — as well as 10 rebounds.

The second half proved to be more of the same for the Bears. Cal’s defense continued to suffocate the Bearkats as Rabb showcased his versatility on both sides of the ball. He proved capable of deterring pick-and-roll ball handlers from attacking the basket and mobile enough to recover back onto his man to prevent a dish inside. Rabb also operated more with his back to the basket this game, working his man in the post and finding cutters for layups. He finished with eight points, five rebounds and three blocked shots in 23 minutes of action.

“(Ivan’s) already a good passer,” Martin said. “He sees it and makes good decisions. We made a conscious effort to give him the ball because he’s a willing passer also. It’s just a case of reading the defense and making the right pass.”

After a free throw by guard Sam Singer to make the score 82-48 — the largest lead of the game for Cal — guard Brandon Chauca checked in with just more than seven minutes to go, signaling the end of the contest. Martin continued to clear his bench, with guard Nick Kerr and forward Cole Welle getting a little playing time as well.

“We’re happy to be 4-0. We’ve been playing really well so far. Tonight, it was great to share the ball,” Wallace said. “Now we go to Las Vegas and have a good challenge against San Diego State. We have to have a good practice and be ready to go Thursday.”

Winston Cho covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @winstonscho