Cal has depended on freshman Jamal Sampson to score points so far this young season, but on Wednesday night the Bears got the points they needed from some old heads.
Seniors Solomon Hughes and Dennis Gates each scored career highs against New Mexico to lead the Bears (4-0) to a 71-62 win in Berkeley. Hughes led the Bears with 17 points, while defensive specialist Gates had 16.
Cal went ahead for the first time in the game on the strength of a 20-2 second-half run during which Hughes and Gates combined to score 11 points. Gates capped the run with a 3-pointer to put the Bears up 49-37 with 12 minutes left in the game, and the Lobos (2-3) wouldn’t get closer than five for the rest of the game.
The two seniors were characteristically understated after the game.
“I just came out trying to make a couple of baskets,” Gates said of his offensive outburst.
“It was a combination of some great passes from Jamal and just personally coming out more relaxed,” Hughes said. “The offense just came to me.”
The pair also keyed the Bears on the defensive end, as Gates came up with four steals and Hughes teamed up with Sampson to patrol the middle, with each big man coming up with three blocked shots.
New Mexico jumped out to an early 7-0 lead and never trailed in the first half. Point guard Marlon Parmer was effective penetrating the Bear defense early, dishing out 5 assists in the first 10 minutes of the game, but was shut down for most of the second half, finishing with just 7 dimes and 5 points. The Bears chipped away at the lead, and Hughes hit two free throws just before halftime to cut the deficit to 30-29.
“We wanted to get out on their 3-point shooters, and we did that,” Cal head coach Ben Braun said. “But our defensive rotation was lacking early and we didn’t recover in time to stop the penetration.”
The second half was a different story, as the Lobos came out cold. They shot just 26.8 percent from the field in the half, including a frigid 1-of-16 on 3-pointers. Leading scorer Ruben Douglas was held to 18 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including just 1-of-8 from behind the arc.
“Cal played great defense tonight, and we just didn’t weather the storm,” said Fran Fraschilla, New Mexico’s head coach. “But it was as much our poor shooting as it was their defense.”
The Lobos built the lead back up to 35-29 before the Bears’ big run. Cal’s Ryan Forehan Kelly gave his team its first lead of the game when he made a 3-pointer, then dropped in two free throws to make the score 36-35. Gates followed with a runner, then Hughes tipped in a Shantay Legans miss and hit a baby-hook shot.
Gates showed some unusual aggressiveness, taking the ball strong to the hole and converting two free throws to make the score 44-37, then finished the run with a 3 to make the score 49-37.
“(Gates) seemed to make every key play for us tonight,” Braun said. “He was aggressive, and that’s contagious. When he’s on the floor, everything picks up a level.”