Perhaps California forward Solomon Hughes best summed up his team’s game with USF.
“We got slapped around bad tonight,” he said.
In a bout billed as one which may sway NCAA Tournament selectors come March, the USF men’s basketball team treated the Golden Bears like a sparring partner, handily defeating Cal 79-59 in front of 5,507 at the Sun Dome Saturday.
“It was a great win,” coach Seth Greenberg said. “I thought defensively, in the first half, we were unbelievable. We were quick to help, I thought we guarded the ball (and) we changed defenses enough to keep them a little off balance.”
The Bulls (6-0) used a combination of pressure defense and solid work on the offensive glass to take a 40-23 halftime lead on their way to equaling the best start in school history.
“I thought (the Bulls) were hungrier than we were,” Cal coach Ben Braun said. “We allowed 11 offensive rebounds in the first half, and that contributed to a lot of our early trouble. When they got on the glass against us, that really hurt us. Eleven offensive rebounds in one half – that’s a high number to me in a game, let alone a half.”
Seniors Altron Jackson (23 points, 10 rebounds) and B.B. Waldon (18, 15) both posted double-doubles for the first time in the same game since the duo accomplished the feat Feb. 1, 2001, against Houston. It was Waldon’s third double-double of the season and Jackson’s second of his career.
“Let’s face it, (Waldon) did a magnificent job of using his body and the rim to create angles to score,” Greenberg said. “He was like a snake.”
The 6-foot-8 Waldon slithered his way through Cal’s front line, utilizing a variety of pivot and up-and-under moves to shoot 8-for-13 from the field against Cal’s pair of 6-foot-11 frontmen, Jamal Sampson and Hughes. Sampson, a heralded freshman and cousin of former NBA star Ralph Sampson, had fits with the smaller Waldon and looked at times like, well … a freshman going up against a senior.
“There’s a senior playing against a freshman,” Greenberg said. “I think (Waldon) used his experience and knowledge to combat a guy that’s going to be a first-team all Pac-10 player before he’s done.”
While Waldon looked sharp offensively, Jackson struggled at times to get into rhythm. Although he finished with 23 points, Jackson was just 10-of-24 from the floor and 1-of-4 from behind the three-point arc.
“I didn’t have my legs and I missed easy shots – shots that I normally make,” Jackson said. “So what I wanted to do was show people I can score in so many different ways – in the flex, going to the glass – just doing everything.”
USF opened the second half by extending its lead to the largest of the game, courtesy of Waldon and Jackson. After a steal by Jackson, Waldon got the ball back to the 6-foot-6 guard for a dunk to push the margin to 28. The pair scored the Bulls’ first 15 points of the second half as the USF lead hovered above 20 until a Sampson slam brought the Golden Bears within 61-43 with 7:30 left to play.
Braun said the Golden Bears lacked two things the Bulls excelled in Saturday – teamwork and intensity.
“When you don’t have those things going, I don’t see you winning any games,” he said. “Especially against South Florida, you’re going to need to play as well as you can together and as hard as you can. And I just didn’t see that (from us).”
The Bulls used a combination of full-court pressure and their trapping 1-3-1 zone to force 18 Cal turnovers, 11 of those coming in the first half. When the Golden Bears did manage to get shots up, they often found the back of the rim. Cal shot a miserable 28 percent in the first half.
“We let their defense dictate our offense,” Cal guard Dennis Gates said.
But Gates was not as impressed with the Bulls’ 1-3-1 zone as he was disappointed in his team’s lack of offensive execution.
“Nothing to take away from South Florida, but we made (the Bulls’ defense) look better than it was,” he said. “We prepared for it in practice, we just didn’t do it in the game.”
However, Jackson had a much different impression of the Cal guards’ reaction to the Bulls’ harassing defense.
“They were scared of our pressure. I could see it in their eyes, just looking in those guys’ eyes,” Jackson said. “Every time they got it, they were backing up.”
- Brandon Wright covers men’s basketball and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org