As expected, the California Golden Bears won their school record 27th straight home game on Saturday night at Haas Pavilion, 81-55 over the Cal Poly Mustangs. It was a bit tougher than the final score would indicate, mostly due to some indifferent first half play from the home team.
The Bears now head into the tougher portion of their schedule with a record of 9-2. The Mustangs fell to 5-6.
"To get number 27 is exciting for our guys," said Coach Cuonzo Martin. "There's a lot of tradition and history here at Cal."
Jabari Bird led Cal with a career-high 25 points, 17 of them in the second half. Bird made seven of nine from the field after the intermission and 10 of 16 for the game. He was four of seven on threes. Ivan Rabb added 18 points with six boards in an efficient performance - before fouling out.
Rabb discussed Bird in the post-game press conference: "He's an explosive scorer, an explosive athlete. We need him out there. He plays the game the right way."
"Jabari's a talented basketball player," said Martin. "I thought he was our best player before he got injured."
Cal shot 60% from the field in the second half, and finished at 53% for the game. The Bears knocked down 10 of 18 from outside the arc. They recorded 19 assists against just 9 turnovers. The Mustangs struggled with Cal's size throughout, and shot just 32.3% (20 of 62) on the night.
The Bears trailed 22-21 with 3:53 left in the first half. They finished that session with a 13-0 run. Rabb scored on a post-up, and Singer drilled a three from the right corner. After two Rabb free throws, Cal cashed in a pair of Mustang turnovers with layups by Charlie Moore and Sam Singer. They completed the run with a spectacular baseline drive reverse layup by Bird to make it 34-22 at the half.
The Mustangs had actually led 19-13 at the 8:23 mark, but the Bears outscored the visitors 21-3 over the final eight minutes of the half. It was another less-than-stellar half from Cal against an overmatched opponent.
Martin junked the usual two bigs lineup in favor of three guards to open the second half. With better spacing against the Poly zone, Cal's offensive efficiency improved. Bird was the immediate beneficiary, with seven quick points on a trey and two layups.
"They're a really small team, and having two (Cal) bigs clogged the lanes," said Bird. "So, having me at the four spot, we got moving a little bit better offensively, we got better flow and were able to jump on them a little bit."
"Having him at the four, it opens things up for us, especially when you have Charlie (Moore), Sam (Singer) and Grant (Mullins), guys who can handle the ball, make decisions and make shots," said Martin. "It really helps us for Ivan because it opens things up for him around the rim."
If not for some questionable foul calls that limited his playing time, Rabb would have probably put up even more impressive numbers.
Cal's lead eventually ballooned to 27 points in the final minute as Martin emptied the bench and got his walk-ons some court time.
Martin cited the one-week gap between games as a contributing factor in some of the ragged play in the first half.
Next up are the Virginia Cavaliers on Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. at Haas. Virginia will be the strongest team that Cal has faced in the non-conference part of their season.
The crowd was announced as 9,698.
Martin said that he is optimistic that Kam Rooks will be back playing in January.
Once again, Cal was poor from the free throw line, making 9 of 18.