Cal Bears Open Pearl Harbor Invitational with Win over Princeton

Dec 3, 2016; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears fans cheer during the game against the Alcorn State Braves in the second period at Haas Pavilion. Cal won 83-59. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 3, 2016; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears fans cheer during the game against the Alcorn State Braves in the second period at Haas Pavilion. Cal won 83-59. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cal Bears fought through another sloppy offensive outing, but used their strong defense to clamp down on a win in the Pearl Harbor Invitational.

Surrounded by servicemen and women at courtside, the Cal Bears and Princeton Tigers opened the Pearl Harbor Invitational at Bloch Arena in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The Bears entered with a four-game winning streak, and started the night with the same starting five as their last win against Alcorn State. On the floor to open the game were Charlie Moore, Sam Singer, Rouger Moute a Bidias, Ivan Rabb, and Kingsley Okoroh. They also welcomed Jabari Bird back to the court after he missed six straight games.

The defenses were stout early in the game. Cal began the game by making just three of their first 14 shot attempts, including one make in seven three-point shots. Princeton started the game with two makes in three shots, but went on to miss the next 14 shots in a row.

Neither team looked good offensively. They tried fruitlessly to crack the opposing defense, but time and time again came up came away empty. But when Princeton found a rhythm, they put together a 7-0 run and were able to pull ahead by three, 14-11. The lead was short-lived, as Moore completed an old-fashioned three-point play to put the Bears back up by two.

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Princeton tied the game, and were able to jump back in front, 20-18, with about 40 seconds left in the first half. Cal fumbled around with the ball on the final possession, and missed on two terrible shots right before the half to go into the locker room trailing.

Devin Cannady was the star of the first half, accounting for 12 of the Tigers’ 20 points. Cal’s star Rabb was held scoreless, and took only two shots in the first half.

Overall, it was an ugly half. Cal shot 25 percent (8-32), while Princeton shot 27.6 percent (8-29). Three-point shooting was just about non-existent, with the two teams combining for two makes on 26 shots. The difference was free throw shooting, as Princeton made three of their four attempts and Cal made just one of three attempts.

Cal opened the second half with four straight points, including Rabb’s first points, to jump back ahead, but Princeton answered with five straight of their own to get out in front again. The back-and-forth continued, and Bird came up with a three-pointer to make it 29-27 Cal at the first media timeout of the half. The first play after the break was a Spencer Weisz three, putting the Tigers back in front again, 30-27.

The battle raged on, with leads changing and shots beginning to fall more frequently. Grant Mullins hit a three-pointer to tie for Cal, and followed with a two-pointer to put them ahead. A pair of Tigers’ threes, one by Will Gladson and another by Henry Caruso put Princeton up by two. Moore drove and scored to tie it back up at 46, the score when a timeout was taken with 6:54 left to play.

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With 4:45 on the clock, Moore took over. He completed a beautiful drive, splitting defenders before finishing at the rim to put Cal up 48-46. He followed that up with a long three, and then with another strong drive, taking contact but still finding the bottom of the net. That personal 7-0 run put Cal up by seven, and they wouldn’t look back from that.

Princeton didn’t just let Cal walk away, getting back within four points at around the one-minute mark. Cal kept them at arm’s length, eventually sealing a 62-51 win.

Dealing with a  hand injury, Rabb had by far his worst offensive game of the young season. He scored a season-low six points on 3-of-9 shooting and missing all six of his free throw attempts. Defensively, Rabb was still a force. He pulled down 11 rebounds, his sixth straight game in double-figures, and came up with two huge blocks in the final minute.

Moore again led the team with 15 points, hitting six of his nine shot attempts, including all four in the second half. In his return to the floor, Bird chipped in 13 points including a very athletic up-and-under lay-in in the second half. Singer and Mullins both contributed 11 points. Okoroh added four blocks, and is averaging three blocks per game over the first eight games.

Cal’s inability to make free throws really hurt them, and nearly cost them the game. They were embarrassingly bad at the stripe, shooting at just 43.5 percent (10-23). That number would have been a lot worse had Mullins and Bird combined to make all six attempts in the final minute of the game.

Cannady led the way for Princeton with 16 points, but was held to just four in the second half. Weisz also finished in double-digits with 10 points.

It was another poor offensive performance for the Bears as a team, but they finished the game shooting a very respectable 42.9 percent from the floor. But they managed to make just four threes, and shot 21.1 percent. Their 49-33 rebounding edge was a big factor in victory, and holding Princeton to 29.8 percent from the floor was as well. Overall, opponents are shooting just 35 percent against the Bears, placing them in the top-10 in the nation.

Next: Washington Steamrolls Colorado in Pac-12 Championship

The Bears continue the festivities in the Pearl Harbor Invitational on Wednesday, when they take on Seton Hall.