Entering its matchup against Colorado at Haas Pavilion, the Cal men’s basketball team stood 10th in the Pac-12 in three-point percentage at 34 percent. But on Super Bowl Sunday, Cal looked like the Golden State Warriors — at least in the first half.
The Bears collectively channeled their long-distance prowess and scorched the Buffaloes for 41 points in the first half, including nine made threes on 40.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Though they cooled off in the second half, their first-half outburst gave the team enough of a cushion to compensate for its second-half struggles and pick up the 77-66 victory.
Both Cal (17-6, 8-3 Pac-12) and Colorado (13-11, 3-8 Pac-12) came into Sunday’s matchup riding three-game winning streaks. While the Buffaloes rank 10th in the Pac-12, they overcame a 0-7 start in conference play to earn three wins in a row, including a signature victory over then-No.10 Oregon to hand the team its only conference loss so far.
Freshman guard Charlie Moore led the charge by pouring in 15 of his team-high 17 points in the first half, all of which came from threes. Moore, a 37.6 percent three-point shooter, converted five of his eight attempts from distance on the game. Senior guard Jabari Bird also contributed to Cal’s barrage from deep and added two triples of his own in the first half.
The Bears’ lack of consistent outside shooting has been one of their biggest shortcomings offensively this season. With sophomore forward Ivan Rabb — who finished the night with 11 points and 11 rebounds — as the focal point of its offense, Cal typically faces more defensive pressure on the interior than on the perimeter. As a result, the Bears have several possessions each game where they burn the clock by rotating around the three-point line, looking for an opening inside, and the offense stagnates.
When that happened tonight in the first half, senior guard Sam Singer — shooting 31 percent from three this season — bailed the team out with a triple just before the shot clock expired. Singer’s shot helped fuel a 19-0 run for Cal, the lead of which ballooned from 13-12 to 32-13. Even redshirt senior Stephen Domingo, whose 19 percent field goal mark makes him a major offensive liability for someone who receives considerable playing time, managed to hit one of his two attempts from beyond the arc.
“Domingo, in my opinion, is a better shooter than his percentages say, especially in practice,” said head coach Cuonzo Martin. “I see a lot of those shots going down now and the continuation to translate into game situations.”
For the second game in a row, however, the Bears were unable to hold onto a big lead. After leading 41-19, Cal conceded a 17-2 run to Colorado to put the Buffaloes within seven points of the Bears. Colorado came as close as 57-62 with under four minutes remaining.
The Buffaloes’ advantage in the second half came from their edge in free-throw attempts, converting all 13 of them. A timely three-pointer from guard Grant Mullins at the 2:34 mark helped Cal keep Colorado just out of reach. The Buffaloes played the foul game in the last two minutes to create a few extra scoring opportunities for themselves, but it wasn’t enough.
“We get the leads because of how we defend, rebound, and play hard,” Martin said. “We can’t get consumed with whether shots fall or don’t fall.”
With the win, the Bears are tied with UCLA for third in the Pac-12 at 8-3. They’ve taken care of lesser conference teams comfortably, but they will need to work on their ability to maintain a lead and become more consistent offensively if they hope to topple a conference powerhouse such as Arizona, Oregon or UCLA.
Kapil Kashyap covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]