Sophomore forward Ivan Rabb, who was voted onto the Preseason All-American Team, made his much anticipated season debut for Cal men’s basketball at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. But despite his efficient 19-point performance, his return to the court wound up being spoiled by San Diego State, which handed the Bears their first loss of the season.
The Aztecs came out frenetic in the first half, opting for quick shots in transition before the Bears were able to set up their defense. For Cal, freshman point guard Charlie Moore, fresh off an impressive 38-point performance against a depleted UC Irvine squad, continued his hot shooting. Moore scored five early points for Cal to help a lineup devoid of shot-creators stay afloat.
Though San Diego State struggled to score efficiently, they gained the early lead because of the Bears’ turnovers. Cal also struggled from the field despite the return of Rabb and senior transfer guard Grant Mullins.
Rabb, a top-10 recruit last year who forewent the NBA draft to return for his sophomore season, was inactive for the Bears’ past two games and started off sluggish upon his return. As soon as he set foot on the court Monday, he was instantly met with heavy defensive attention. Rabb was double-teamed every time he received an entry pass into the post and was forced to take contested jumpers, airballing twice and committing a turnover on three such occasions in the first half.
With Rabb still shaking off his rust, Cal struggled to score and found itself in a double-digit deficit, 28-18, with five minutes remaining in the first half. One of the Bears’ biggest strengths on offense is their perimeter shooting, but Mullins, senior guard Sam Singer and redshirt senior guard Stephen Domingo all shot poorly early in the game. They also missed senior guard Jabari Bird, who didn’t make the trip to Sacramento because of back spasms.
Cal’s desperation on offense increased as the Aztecs’ lead ballooned, which led to successive possessions in which the Bears were impatient and settled for contested shots. The Bears ended the half with just six field goals.
San Diego State capped off a strong first half, in which it scored 42 points while holding Cal to just 25, with a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer for its fifth triple of the game. Starting guard Jeremy Hemsley led the Aztecs with 13 points in the half on 4-8 shooting.
The absence of Moore, who was sidelined for much of the game due to foul trouble, left the Bears without anyone to ignite the offense. In the stretches where Moore did play, especially the opening minutes of the second half, the offense looked fluid, with more ball movement and more space on the floor because of his ability to penetrate.
After Moore’s return at the 15:56 mark in the second half, the Bears scored five straight points to cut the Aztec lead to 10 points, 48-38. But while the Bears started to look comfortable on offense, they were overwhelmed on the defensive end. With strong outside shooting performances from multiple players, San Diego State responded with a 7-0 run to push the lead to 17 points and take control of the game.
Cal’s tandem of centers, Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh, lacked the lateral quickness to keep up with San Diego State forward Zylan Cheatham, who feasted in the second half by scoring all of his eight points after halftime.
The Bears began to thrive once they were able to slow down the Aztecs and forced them to shoot perimeter shots late in the shot clock. Down 62-44, Cal produced a 10-0 run to bring itself within single digits.
The Bears’ efforts late in the game ultimately weren’t enough, and they fell 77-65 to San Diego State for their first loss of the season.
Kapil Kashyap covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]