Down 46-44, Cal men’s basketball found itself in the heat of a tightly contested game against Princeton, desperate for points. Freshman guard Charlie Moore, who established himself as a dynamic scorer early in the season with his 38-point outburst against UC Irvine, answered the call. Moore scored the Bears’ next nine points, converting two layups, a deep three and a jumper in a four-minute stretch to give his team a six-point advantage.
After trading leads throughout the game, Cal (7-1) held on for the remainder of the matchup to earn the 62-51 win over the Tigers (2-4). The 11-point margin of victory marked the Bears’ biggest lead of the game.
In the first half, both teams struggled with their perimeter shooting. The Bears shot just 1/15 from beyond the arc, including several airballs on uncontested attempts from the corner. Princeton shot marginally better, finishing the half with a mark of 1/11 from three-point territory.
Cal’s uncharacteristic shooting percentages were the result of strong defense. The Tigers repeatedly made Cal take difficult shots late in the shot clock, including the first possession where the Bears committed a shot clock violation. Princeton contained the Bears’ penetration well and forced them to use up valuable seconds rotating the ball around the perimeter aimlessly.
Meanwhile, the Tigers looked to take advantage of center Kingsley Okoroh’s lack of mobility, as many other teams have done this season. Princeton often set screens on Okoroh and forced him to switch onto a player, capable of shooting before he could make his way to the perimeter. In the event that the Bears didn’t switch, the other defender was forced to fight over the screen, giving the Tigers enough time to get a shot off from outside.
Cal’s first half struggles were also a product of its inability to get starting forward Ivan Rabb adequately involved in the offense. At the 10-minute mark in the first half, Rabb had yet to attempt a field goal. Rabb’s lingering left hand strain, coupled with his lack of touches, led to one of his least productive halves of the season: zero points and one assist.
Senior guard Jabari Bird, who missed the last six games as a result of back spasms, made his return, giving the Bears the consistent perimeter threat that they’ve desperately needed. In his first game back, Bird came off the bench and looked out of rhythm to start the game — his first two three-point attempts fell short and bounced off the front of the rim. But Bird bounced back from his shaky start in the second half and finished with a promising 13-point performance on 5/11 shooting.
After shooting 25 percent in the first half, the Bears found themselves in a 20-18 deficit. Both teams, however, appeared much more comfortable in the second half and began to score with relative ease. Rabb anchored the team defensively, pulling in 11 rebounds to help Cal gain the 49-33 rebounding edge. Moore’s heroics boosted the Bears in the latter part of the second half, but the victory wasn’t sealed yet.
The Bears shot a miserable 43.5 percent from the free-throw line on 23 attempts, including some critical misses with the game in the balance. Rabb, whose shot mechanics were visibly altered by the pain in his left hand, finished 0/6 from the line while Moore and senior guard Sam Singer both finished 2/5 on free-throws.
Leading 56-51, Rabb sealed the victory with a timely block on a second-chance opportunity from Princeton. Moore finished the game as Cal’s top performer, with 15 points on 6/9 shooting, while Okoroh also put together a well-rounded effort, finishing with six points, nine rebounds and four blocks.
Kapil Kashyap covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]