Anaheim, CA - The California Golden Bears men's basketball team improved to 5-0 with a solid 68-57 wins over Georgia Tech Friday night at the Anaheim Convention Center Arena. California quickly jumped out to an 8-2 lead but the Yellow Jackets fought back to tie the contest at 17-17 midway through the first half.
Cal led by just 34-33 at the half, but surged in the second half to score a 68-57 win over their ACC opponent to drop them to 3-1 on the season.
“Tonight was a good win for us, it was a good matchup, the first one we have had against a team with bigs like ours”, said Mike Montgomery, Cal's head coach.
“This is an ACC team that had the 14th rated recruiting class in the country. We are figuring out how we have to play. We need to get everyone scoring. Earlier [in the season] if Allen (Crabbe) struggled it was a problem, but now we have others contributing to the scoring”.
Richard Kravish started quickly, scoring six of the team's first eight points on assists from Brandon Smith and Allen Crabbe, adding a put back on a missed shot.
Cal led 10-6 at the first official time out as the partisan Cal crowd belted out “Go Bears”.
Georgia Tech rallied to knot the score at 17-17 midway through the opening half with strong inside play from Kammeon Holsey and perimeter scoring from Mfon Udofia. They each scored nine points in the half on a combined eight for 13 from the field.
From that point the Yellow Jackets scored five straight fast break points by forcing Cal turnovers and converting at the other end. Montgomery called a time out to slow the momentum.
Late in the half Robert Thurman blocked a dunk attempt on a fast break to prevent Tech from extending their lead to five. The half ended with Justin Cobbs dribbling the clock down to seven seconds and then breaking his defender down into the lane - and pulling up - when Thurman broke for the basket and Cobbs hit him with a bounce pass for a slam dunk at the buzzer to put Cal up by one at the half.
Cal had strong first half performances from Justin Cobbs with nine points on 4 of 6 from the field and three assists to go along with Richard Solomon's six points and six rebounds, and Kravish's eight points.
Mike Montgomery used seven players in the game with six averaging just less than 32 minutes each. Robert Thurman and Tyrone Wallace came off the bench and played 31 and 30 minutes respectively. These seven rotated continually both to stay fresh and to look for combinations that would create match-up problems for the opposition.
The score was tied at 42 at the 13:30 mark of the half when Cal began to assert its will on the Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech. First Crabbe hit a jumper followed by a Cobbs dunk, then Richard Solomon scored on a layup and two free throws to push the lead to 51-44.
Tyrone Wallace drove down the right side and cut into the lane to split two tight defenders and take a hard foul – yet was still able to get off a soft bank shot that kissed the glass for two – and gain a three point opportunity. He drained the free throw to put the Bears up 54-44 with 9:18 remaining. In retrospect that was game-over.
Richard Solomon then tipped in a miss and as he came to the sideline during the ensuing time out he got a rousing reception from his teammates. His confidence was soaring at that point. He would finish the game with 12 points and nine rebounds to just miss a double double. He hit four of five free throws and had just three fouls in 26 minutes of action. Good marks for him on both counts.
The teams traded baskets the rest of the way for the eventual Cal win.
“We wanted to come out aggressive from the start,” said Justin Cobbs after the game. “We were a little soft early, allowing some layups and five straight fast break points. We figured out their game plan of going high-low and (saw) it was working. We started sending a guard down low to dig the ball out from their bigs and that worked well for us”.
Asked if the three point scoring offense of Georgia Tech was a concern, Cobbs said “We weren't too worried about the three point line. They have strong inside players and they had early success inside”.
Richard Solomon agreed that the team needed to increase its focus on the bigs, and when the Cal guards came inside to force Holsey to pick up his dribble it was effective.
Coach Montgomery indicated that Tyrone Wallace was instrumental in this strategy and that his length helped. “He can come inside to pressure the post player, yet use his quickness and length to be able to prevent a good shot off a pass back outside.”
Coach Montgomery was asked about the match up with Pacific on Sunday. He credits Bob Thomason of Pacific for having his team playing well, adding that it is not a surprise that they are in the final of the DirecTV tournament.
Pacific participated in a summer tour which gave them extra practice time and 10 additional games as compared to teams that were not involved in tours. The head start on the season has enabled them to be further along in team development.
Cal will face Pacific Sunday in the championship game of the DirecTV Classic. They defeated St. Mary's 76-66 to reach the final game. The game will be televised on ESPN2 at 6 pm on Sunday.