A superbly prepared California Golden Bears team surprised the 23rd ranked Syracuse Orange and a loud (in the first half) partisan crowd at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night with a 73-59 victory. The win advanced the Bears to the championship game of the 2K Classic where they will face the Texas Longhorns Friday at 4:30 Pacific (source: Cal Media Relations).
“It's a big win for our program,” said sophomore wing Jabari Bird. “We came out here, we're not ranked, kind of an underdog team. We got a great team W tonight.”
Coach Cuonzo Martin said of his team, “I knew they were good guys. I thought they grew from a toughness standpoint today.” He went on to note that they are making major progress defensively.
Sophomore Guard Jordan Mathews was the high man with 22 points (20 in the second half), but the key was a brilliant all around game from senior David Kravish. Kravish scored 12 points, pulled 9 rebounds, and added five assists against just one turnover. For good measure, he also had three blocks.
The Bears consistently got good shots against the vaunted Syracuse 2-2-1 zone. They shot 46.4% for the game (26 for 55), and had 22 assists on their 26 field goals. They hit an impressive 8 of 19 from beyond the arc. Bird made four of five from distance and finished with 16.
Kravish' play in the middle of the zone was a huge factor, Martin said. “I thought he did a tremendous job. When you have a guy like David Kravish, he's one of the best I've seen at flashing in a zone. Anytime you beat a zone you have to have a good flash guy.”
Mathews and Bird talked about the game plan, to try to run the offense through the high post. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim noted, “Everybody we play tries to do that. They had a really good player in there.” He was talking about Kravish.
The Bears held the Orange to 35.9% shooting for the game. In the post-game press conference, coach Boeheim said, “I thought Cal was really good on offense at the end of the first half. We couldn't get our offense going at all. Offensively we're just not as good as we need to be.” Cal's aggressive defense may have had something to do with the Orange's struggles.
As Boeheim said, the key stretch in the game came late in the first half. With the Bears leading 22-20, they went on a 12-0 run fueled by three-point shots from Kravish, Bird, Tarwater, and Bird again. Michael Gbinije hit a jumper to end the streak, but Cal went to the locker room leading 34-22.
Rakeem Christmas scored to open the second half to make it a 10 point ball game, but that was as close as Syracuse got. Bird hit a trey from the left wing, and Cal was in control. The lead grew to 19 and the Orange never later made a serious run. Cal got a little sloppy in the final couple of minutes, but overall it was an impressive display. Martin had noted on film that a big part of the Syracuse offense in their first two games had been offensive rebounding, and the Bears held their own on the glass.
Each team finished with 38 rebounds. Cal had 31 defensive rebounds, and Syracuse had 13 offensive boards, so the percentage was acceptable.
Cal will face a serious challenge tomorrow night. Texas was very impressive in coming from 12 points down in the first half of their game against Iowa to win 71-57. They are big, long and athletic, and guard Isaiah Taylor has tremendous quickness. Senior forward Jonathan Holmes led the way with 19 (17 after intermission), and Taylor had 15.
It's a quick turn-around for the team tonight, but as Martin observed Texas didn't get to scout Cal's man-to-man offense. Tip is scheduled for just after 4 pm Pacific Time. (The Cal athletics website has it at 4:30 pm PT).
- Cal improved to 3-0 on the season.
- Tyrone Wallace had 10 points, 6 assists and 4 turnovers.
- Syracuse will play Iowa in the consolation game.