When Cal head coach Ben Braun convinced Jamal Sampson to play for the Bears, he knew Sampson would be an impact player. But no one realized just how quickly that impact would come.
Sampson was named the Most Valuable Player of the season-opening Black Coaches Association Classic after his first two games as a college player, helping lead the Bears to the tournament title with a 56-27 thrashing of Eastern Washington at Haas Pavilion. The freshman big man had 10 points to go with a team-high 14 rebounds and 4 blocks.
“(Sampson) is a heck of a player,” EWU head coach Ray Giacoletti said. “You just don’t find a lot of guys like that. We certainly don’t see a lot of that type of athleticism in the Big Sky (Conference).”
The Bears throttled the Eastern Washington offense, holding the Eagles to 23 percent shooting in the game, including an 0-for-12 whitewash from behind the arc. The Eagles also managed to shoot themselves in the foot by making just 7-of-16 free throws, and they had an astounding single assist in the game, credited to point guard Jason Lewis. No EWU player had more than 6 points.
The Bears weren’t exactly sizzling on the offensive end either. They shot 40 percent from the field, and Brian Wethers was the player other than Sampson to break double figures with a game-high 13 points. But the Bears hit the offensive glass hard, pulling down 18 offensive boards, including 6 by Sampson and 4 by Solomon Hughes.
“Our defense and rebounding allowed us to have an off-game offensively,” Cal head coach Ben Braun said.
Sampson and Hughes also keyed the Cal defense, using their unusual quickness to switch out onto the EWU guards, a rarity in the college game.
“They’re probably the only team in the country that will switch on defense with (all five players),” Giacoletti said. “You just don’t see that. Shoot, I’ve been in college basketball for 16 years and I’ve never seen anyone do that.”
The Bears took advantage of early foul trouble for EWU big men Jason Humbert and Gregg Smith to race out to a 20-6 lead in the first half and never looked back as the Eagles went nearly seven minutes without a basket. The score was 27-10 at halftime, the least points for an Cal opponent since 1946.
The Bears extended the lead to 35-10 before EWU could score in the second half, and it was pretty much garbage time from there on out. Cal took its biggest lead of the game on a Gabriel Hughes dunk in the final minute of the game that made the score 56-25.