The Cal Bears opened their season on Friday, and used a big second half to put plenty of distance between themselves and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.
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The Cal Bears’ men’s basketball team opened their season on Friday night against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, and had to do so without their star forward, Ivan Rabb. The sophomore was ruled out of the season opener because of a sprained toe suffered in a scrimmage.
Their starting five looked quite a bit different from what was expected. True freshman Charlie Moore, gradaute transfer Grant Mullins, senior Jabari Bird, senior Stephen Domingo, and junior Kingsley Okoroh were on the floor for opening tip.
Cal had no issues without their preseason All-American. They opened the game with nine straight points, five from Domingo, before South Dakota State finally cracked the board almost seven minutes into the contest. At the eight-minute mark, freshman Moore scored the first point of his college career by hitting a free throw. He missed the second, but an offensive rebound led to Mullins’ first basket as a Bear off a mid-range jumper.
Despite the early lead, Cal was still playing very sloppy basketball early in the game. They turned the ball over six times in the first 10 minutes. They would settle in soon after, and Roger Moute a Bidias would provide a spark off the bench. He brought Haas Pavilion to its feet after a steal and breakaway dunk, and continued his highlight reel with a tough and-one finish.
The Bears led by as many as 18 points in the first half, but the offense became stagnant at some points and they weren’t able to really pull away. Even still, the defense kept playing tough and kept the lead in the double-digits. At the half, it was a 40-28 Cal lead.
Moute a Bidias entered the locker room as the leading scorer with 10 points. The senior had never before reached double-digits in scoring. His previous career-high in scoring was seven, which he reached on November 16th, 2014. Okoroh also had a very nice first half as he dominated the paint. He swatted away four shots in the first half, and altered plenty of others.
After the break, South Dakota State opened with four straight points to bring the lead down to eight. Cal answered back quickly, as a pair of Mullins’ free throws started a 30-3 run to stretch the lead up to 35. They began to dominate every facet of the game at that point. Their ball movement became more crisp. The shooting was smoother. The defense was still smothering. The Jackrabbits went over 10 minutes without scoring a point.
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A very competitive first half was wiped away as Cal turned the final 20 minutes into a team-wide showcase. They outscored the Jackrabbits 42-25 in the second half, and a lot of South Dakota State’s offense came when the game was already well out of hand. The score was 82-53 in Cal’s favor when the final whistle blew.
Moute a Bidias finished his career night with 12 points, making him one of four Cal players in double figures. He also tied for the team lead with five assists and grabbed six rebounds. Sam Singer and Jabari Bird each posted team-highs with 14 points, while Mullins added 13.
Cal finished with a huge rebounding edge, grabbing 54 boards compared to South Dakota State’s 26. Kameron Rooks and Mullins both had seven to lead the way, while Bird and Singer matched Moute a Bidias with six. Singer also dished out five assists.
Under the basket, Rooks and Okoroh threw a block party as they recorded four blocks each. For Okoroh, it was the fourth time in his career he reached four blocks after doing so thrice last season. Rooks’ four set a career-best.
An encouraging sign for Cal came at the free throw line. After struggling mightily from the stripe last season (they hit at just a 65.6 percent clip), Cal made 10 of their 13 attempts on Friday, good for a 76.9 percent mark.
The Bears do still have some work to do. They looked very sloppy at times, and had some extremely careless turnovers. The defense was very strong and used their size advantage to bully the Jackrabbits, but the offense needs to come along more consistently. This was only game one, so there is plenty of time for the Bears to find cohesion. With Rabb’s status uncertain for at least the next couple games, the team may need to continue to work without him.
Next on the docket for the Bears is the UC Irvine Anteaters, who come to Haas Pavilion next Wednesday. The two schools have met eight times in the past, with Cal coming away victorious in six of those meetings.