The Cuonzo Martin era at California got off to a good start, with the Golden Bears picking up comfortable victories over Alcorn State and Kennesaw State. But with all due respect to those two teams, the Golden Bears’ matchup with No. 23 Syracuse in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic in New York was going to reveal a lot more about Cal than either of those prelims have.
Thanks to a stretch late in the first half in which they knocked down four three-pointers, the Golden Bears took control of a game they would eventually win by the final score of 73-59. What’s helped Martin thus far is the amount of talent that remained in Berkeley following the retirement of Mike Montgomery, and against the Orange those players stepped forward to turn a competitive game into a comfortable victory.
The Golden Bears were able to find gaps in the Syracuse zone, shooting 8-for-19 from three and 50 percent from inside of the arc. And of their 26 made field goals 20 were assisted, with reserve guard Sam Singer accounting for eight of the assists. Cal didn’t settle for long jumpers, which is something many teams do when facing Syracuse, and the strategy paid off.
Jabari Bird was responsible for two of the four three-pointers during that decisive first half run, and Jordan Mathews scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half. Add in senior forward David Kravish, who accounted for 12 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocks, and junior point guard Tyrone Wallace (ten points, five assists), and four of Cal’s five starters finished the game in double figures.
With Wallace being a junior and both Bird and Mathews being sophomores, they can be valuable pieces for Martin not only this season but in the future as well. Cal won’t be the deepest of teams, especially in the front court as a result of the knee injury suffered by Kameron Rooks, but they’ve still got plenty of skill.
Syracuse has a host of issues to address, and Thursday’s result served as a reminder of how much production (and talent) they lost from last year’s team. But that shouldn’t take away from what California accomplished. In front of a pro-Syracuse crowd and against Jim Boeheim’s famed 2-3 zone, Cuonzo Martin’s Golden Bears took an important step forward in their development as a team.