Coppin State settled into a zone to start the game as many teams that hope to contain the high-flying Cal offense do. The Eagles’ defensive gameplan was evident from the opening tip: pressure the ball full court, allow Cal to take jump shots and live or die by the results. Unfortunately for Coppin State, the Bears have seen a zone several times and are better at executing a functioning offense against one than earlier in the season.
The Cal men’s basketball team (9-2) celebrated the conclusion of final exams with a resounding victory, 84-51, over Coppin State (2-10) on Saturday. Forward Ivan Rabb and guard Jordan Mathews pushed the Bears’ record to 8-0 at Haas Pavilion this season with 13 points apiece.
“The goal is to play well,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin. “I thought defensively we did a good job. We held them to 24 percent so that’s good. I wanted to do better against the zone, and I thought we moved well. It was a good effort.”
Cal boasted a clear size advantage as Martin continued to start center Kameron Rooks — making this the fifth consecutive game guard Jabari Bird came off the bench. Rooks and Rabb anchored a strong defensive performance for Cal as the duo flummoxed opposing big men and met every penetrating guard at the rim to contest their shots. The pair combined for three of Cal’s nine blocks in just 35 minutes of action.
The Bears’ wings were not afraid to pressure the ball and meet their man chest-to-chest with a towering frontcourt behind them. As disciplined as the Cal frontline was, Cal’s perimeter players were an integral part of the defense as they kept assignments in front of them by switching on-ball screens and keeping their hands in the passing lanes. After the Bears recorded their third block within the first five minutes of the game, Coppin State started to settle for long, off-the-dribble jump shots Cal likes to allow. This forced turnovers and long rebounds into transition opportunities for the Bear wings.
Earlier in the season, Cal tried to break zones by having a player — typically Rabb — flash inside to move the ball to cutters and shooters on the wing. As the game progresses and starts to speed up, the Bears move away from the flashing big man into more jump shots — often contested ones. That middle presence — the linchpin of zone offenses — was firmly established against the Eagles and greased the Cal offense. Forward Jaylen Brown finished with 10 points but recorded a season-high five assists. He impressed with crisp, quick passes to cutters inside and shooters on the wing when he got the ball near the elbows.
“The thing about Jaylen (Brown) is I want him to stay aggressive,” Martin said. “He’s a very unselfish player and I want him to get out. He can finish strong, make the shot and find the shooters. He’s a talented basketball player. He’s a guy that impacts the game.”
The Bears were a fine-tuned machine the entire game, and the score reflected as much. Cal put the game away early, leading 43-22 at the half. Toward the end of the game, Haas Pavilion erupted into applause when forward Cole Welle picked the ball and got out in transition, preceding a long three-pointer by crowd favorite, guard Nick Kerr. The lead ballooned to as much as 36 with Cal winning by its largest margin of victory this season.
“I feel like I have nothing to lose,” Kerr said. “The game’s been decided, and you just want to make a play and have fun.”
Winston Cho covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @winstonscho