BERKELEY — If defense wins games, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Cal men’s basketball team picked up its first win against a top-10 opponent in more than five years last week.
The Bears (13-8, 5-4 Pac-12 Conference) grabbed a much-needed signature win against Oregon (then No. 10) on Saturday by forcing 22 turnovers, allowing only three second-chance points and limiting the Ducks to 2-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc.
“The fact that we were able to defend well enough to win helped us to maybe realize that that’s got to be what we have to do,” coach Mike Montgomery said.
Forward Robert Thurman said if the Bears continue to be stingy on defense, they could be a tough team to beat in the second half of the Pac-12 schedule.
“It showed that if we get in there and play great defense, we can play with anyone,” he said.
Tough assignment: Defense will be key once again this week when the Bears travel to Arizona to battle Arizona State (17-5, 6-3) on Thursday and No. 7 Arizona (19-2, 7-2) on Sunday.
The toughest assignment falls on the shoulders of guards Justin Cobbs and Brandon Smith, who will be asked to shut down Sun Devils point guard Jahii Carson (18.3 points per game) and Wildcats point guard Mark Lyons (14.9 points per game).
The Bears will look to keep Carson and Lyons out of the paint, where they’re dangerous drawing defenders, kicking out to shooters or going hard to the dish.
“Just don’t let him get to the basket,” Cobbs said of Carson. “That’s when he starts distributing and getting everybody involved.”
Montgomery said Smith’s return from concussion symptoms two weeks ago is a boost to the Bears backcourt defense.
“He’s a tough guy,” he said. “He’s a guy that won’t get screened and that’s one of the keys.”
Solomon surges: Forward Richard Solomon burst to life against Oregon last week, scoring 13 points and grabbing a season-high 12 rebounds. The 6-foot-10 junior also scored the decisive basket in the Bears’ 71-68 win over Oregon State on Thursday.
The Bears have big hopes for him, but he missed 21 games because of academic ineligibility last season and is averaging only 8.4 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game this year.
Solomon is starting to gain confidence, though, Montgomery said.
“The fact that he scored a couple baskets and was able to get some rebounds, I think that obviously makes everybody feel better about themselves,” he said.