The Cal men’s basketball team began its 2015-16 campaign with a 10-3 start in nonconference play. The Bears have since gone 6-5 in Pac-12 play without senior guard Tyrone Wallace, the team’s leading scorer, when his injury took place Jan. 16.
On Thursday night in Haas Pavilion against No. 11 Oregon (20-5, 9-3 Pac-12), the leader of the team returned earlier than expected. And like the growing team that was left in his injury-ridden wake, it took some time for him to get comfortable.
But like many good things, with time comes improvement, as is beginning to be seen in the Bears themselves. A much improved second-half performance by Wallace, when he put up 10 points and three assists, led Cal to a 20-point win, 83-63 over the Ducks, ending their six-game winning streak.
“I think the sky is the limit. We defended really well tonight,” Wallace said. “So we just have to continue to bring that effort on the defensive side of the ball and you see what it leads to on the offensive end.”
The Bears couldn’t have started the game any better. Within the first three minutes of play, four different Cal players scored a basket and the home team built itself a 12-2 lead. The large scoring differential also emerged from the Bears’ strong shooting in the beginning portion of the game, only failing to make a basket on one possession during the early goings. Cal’s opening strong offensive performance also came courtesy of freshman forward Jaylen Brown, who had the first five points of the game.
Wallace’s entrance into the game on the first timeout came when junior guard Jabari Bird already had nine points in the game on three treys. Despite the energy that the senior’s return brought to the team, Wallace’s lack of playing time in the last month was evident in his sluggish start.
After a three-pointer by junior guard Jordan Mathews and a jumper by Brown, who finished the game with 16 points and three assists, the Ducks entered a five-minute scoring drought. In the same span, the Bears managed to score 11 points, increasing their lead to 29-9.
Oregon seemed to gain some comfort in the second portion of the first half with forward Chris Boucher and guard Tyler Dorsey scoring four points each.
But making these baskets was still not enough for a Ducks team that never seemed to really feel comfortable in Haas Pavilion. Bird added on seven more points, in what turned out to be one of his best nights of the season thus far. The highest scorer for Oregon, forward Dwayne Benjamin, had only eight points, half of Bird’s total.
While Cal went into the half shooting 60 percent from beyond the arc, the Ducks made just two for 11 or 18.2 percent.
But it was a dunk from freshman forward Ivan Rabb to start the half that gave the Bears a 20-point lead once again. With the next three baskets going to Oregon, however, the Ducks seemed to begin to find their rhythm.
As Oregon got back into it, two keys players for Cal that have been crucial to their earlier success began to make their presence known. Wallace’s first points of the game and Mathews’ second three stretched the Bears’ lead out to their highest of the game at that point, 52-30.
With the Ducks’ offense continuing to look out of their comfort zone, Wallace and Rabb continued moving back into theirs.
Wallace scored eight more points in the second half and played a total of 27 minutes, while the freshman scored seven points in the first 10 minutes of the second half alone.
With Wallace back on the court, Cal seemed to really begin to excel on offense with Rabb and Brown, benefitting from the extra offensive threat that Singer did not provide in the game. The junior, however, did finish the game with 11 assists, a speciality of his. Another factor that allowed the Bears’ offense to improve so much compared to the previous outing against the Ducks was the lack of turnovers.
Giving it away only 11 times in the game — from the 18 total the first time around against the Ducks — Cal allowed its defense the opportunity to stifle an Oregon offense that came into the game averaging 78.1 points per game.
And despite forward Dillon Brooks’ 15 second half points, the Ducks were never able to bring the score deficit less than 10 points after the opening moments and watched their Pac-12 lead receive another chip in its armor.
“The main thing for us is to go out there and play as a team,” Bird said. “We played hard on the defensive end and shutdown a really good offensive team and that was the main thing for us and me tonight.”