Cal builds big lead, holds off late Arkansas push
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — After getting a good look at Arkansas’s pressing defense when the teams played earlier this season in the Maui Invitational, California’s Tyrone Wallace was better prepared this time around.
The Golden Bears even pulled off some defensive trickery of their own.
Jabari Bird scored 19 points, David Kravish had 13 points and eight rebounds and California beat Arkansas 75-64 on Monday night to advance to the third round of the NIT.
“We knew they were going to press us and try to force turnovers,” said Wallace, who had 16 points. “We just had to stay calm and composed.”
It helped that the Bears led comfortably most of the way until the Razorbacks made a late run.
California (21-13) led by 24 with 12:30 remaining before a late flurry by the Razorbacks trimmed the gap to single digits in the final minute following a three-point play by Rashad Madden.
Wallace, who struggled with his shot in the second half, made four free throws and Justin Cobbs added two down the stretch to help the Bears advance to the quarterfinals of the NIT for the first time since 2000.
“It was kind of fun to play against (the press),” said Bird, who shot 7-of-8 from the floor. “We handled it well, for the most part. It wasn’t anything that surprised us. We knew what they were going to do coming into the game.”
Playing its second straight game without center Richard Solomon (concussion), Cal got off to a running start on the way to its second straight postseason win after stumbling into the tournament having lost four of five.
The Bears, who beat the Razorbacks 88-77 when the teams met in November in Hawaii, did it with a slashing offense and by staying in a rigid 3-2 zone most of the night. That helped make up for the absence of center Richard Solomon, who sat out his second consecutive game with a concussion.
Madden had 15 points while Bobby Portis added 12 points and 10 rebounds for Arkansas (22-12). The Razorbacks missed 30 shots in the first half and went just 4 of 24 on 3-pointers.
“We got off to a slow start and didn’t shoot well,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “It just seemed like every time we had some momentum, somehow the whistle blew and (Cal) got to the free throw line.”
The Bears led by 15 at halftime and extended the gap to 53-29 following a pair of free throws from Jordan Mathews.
Arkansas, which shot 32.1 percent for the game, put together its best stretch and went on a 21-8 run to pull within nine at 71-62 after Madden scored on a baseline drive and was fouled.
The Razorbacks had two opportunities to trim the lead more, but came up empty each time.
It was a far different finish than how the game began.
Bird scored nine points and Cal went on a 16-0 run in the first half to build a 31-8 lead.
Arkansas freshman Bobby Portis made his team’s first eight points, but no other Razorbacks player scored until Fred Gulley III’s dunk and free throw with 4:51 left in the first half.