It wasn't exactly Super, but the California Golden Bears (17-6, 8-3) celebrated Super Bowl Sunday at Haas Pavilion with a 77-66 win over the short-handed Colorado Buffaloes (13-11, 3-8). The Bears built a 23 point first half lead, and held off a late charge from the visitors. Cal moves back into a third place tie with UCLA in the Pac-12 standings.
Colorado played without starters Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon for a violation of team rules.
"Got off to a good start, said Coach Cuonzo Martin in the post game press conference. "I thought it would be the opposite when you have two Colorado starters that are not in the lineup, I thought our guys would let up a little bit."
Freshman Charlie Moore was high man for Cal with 17 points, 15 of those in the first half on five three-pointers. Grant Mullins had 16, mostly late, and Ivan Rabb recorded his 12th double-double with 11 points and 11 boards.
This one should have been over by halftime. Leading 13-12, the Bears put together a 19-0 run over a six-minute stretch to take control of the game. Cal hit five triples during the run, two each by Moore and Jabari Bird and one by Sam Singer. There were big gaps in Colorado's zone defense, and Cal took advantage. Colorado closed the half by scoring the final seven points. The Bears led 41-26 at the intermission.
Cal came out flat after the break. Eight consecutive points by Derrick White helped cut the advantage to seven by the first media timeout. Cal got into some foul difficulty, and lost their crispness from the first half.
Cal got important contributions off the bench from Stephen Domingo (5 points) and Kam Rooks (9 points, 6 rebounds) when starters were on the bench due to fouls. Domingo hit a big three in the second half when Colorado had cut the lead to seven.
Colorado eventually got within five points of the Bears (62-57) with just over three minutes remaining. A clutch 3-ball from the right corner by Mullins, and his perfect eight for eight from the foul line secured the victory.
"They're just a really talented team, and they shoot it really well from the 3-point line, so we knew that a big lead could go away quickly if we let up," said Mullins after the game. "I think we just had a few mental lapses on defense that gave them some open shots."
"We get the leads because of the way we defend, rebound and play hard," said Cuonzo Martin. "We've got to defend from start to finish the same way."
When asked if his team was getting mentally tougher from maintaining leads under pressure, Martin joked, "They might be stronger, my heart is getting weak though from it."
Cal enters a stage of the schedule where five of the next seven games are on the road. They head to the desert next week for games against Arizona State and nationally ranked Arizona. Getting at least a split is essential for their post-season hopes.
- Kingsley Okoroh suffered a broken nose in the Utah game, and played with a protective mask.
- The crowd was announced as 9,719, but appeared to be considerably smaller.
- Cal out-rebounded Colorado 40-32.