Cal throttled Washington State from the start, scoring inside almost at will in a 90-57 win over the hapless Cougars on Saturday evening at Haas Pavilion.
Despite facing the Cougars’ 2-3 zone, Cal got the ball into the low post to freshmen Jamal Sampson and Amit Tamir early and often. Sampson dominated early, but Tamir led the Golden Bears in scoring with 17 points and in assists with 4. Sampson ended up with 12 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists.
Joe Shipp, who had led Cal in scoring in each of the previous three games, scored 8 points on 3-of-8 shooting. The junior forward played just six minutes of the second half as the rout was on.
Washington State coach Paul Graham praised the Bears after the game.
“Those big guys are good,” he said of Sampson and Tamir. “They’re mobile and they’ve got good feet. They’re good passers. Cal is good. I can’t believe they’re not in one of the polls.”
The 6-foot-11 Sampson took advantage of his height advantage against Washington State, whose tallest player in the starting lineup was 6-foot-9 center J Locklier. Sampson scored 6 points in the first seven minutes on two short-range shots and two free throws as Cal built a 12-6 lead.
“He’s an unselfish player, which I think sometimes goes unnoticed,” Braun said of Sampson. “I liked he got a little more aggressive and looked for his shot on the block today. I thought he had some very sound post moves. I really thought he did a good job establishing himself in the block. We’ve got some pretty legitimate threats down there, in Solomon [Hughes], Jamal and Amit.”
Tamir was coming off of a sub-par performance just two days earlier in a 62-50 win over Washington. The 22-year-old forward from Israel said after Saturday’s win that he had let undisclosed “personal problems” affect him against the Huskies.
“It’s a struggle when you’re away from home, that’s tough,” Braun said of Tamir, who scored just 3 points against Washington. “And when you have family and friends you haven’t seen in a while, that’s tough. He’s the kind of kid who won’t say much. In talking to him, he’ll finally tell you, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.’ But I think that does affect you.
“I talked about that with the whole team. When you’re having a bad day or personal issues, the one thing you don’t want to do is have that affect the whole team. At least for the two hours you’re together with the team, try to make yourself a team player.”
The only problem for the Bears in the first half came from the perimeter. Cal couldn’t hit a 3-point shot and its only long-range basket came on a 19-foot jumper from A.J. Diggs. The Bears didn’t really need any threes, but Shantay Legans, again coming off the bench in support of Diggs, hit two in the second half anyway. Tamir hit one from downtown early in the second stanza.
Hughes, who came off the bench for the second straight game after recovering from a right knee strain and bone bruise, played 11 minutes, made his only shot and grabbed 6 rebounds. Braun said Hughes is healthy and would have played more minutes if the game had been closer.
But Braun wouldn’t say if the 6-foot-11 senior center might reclaim his starting position in this weekend’s trip to Los Angeles, where the Bears face USC and UCLA. Tamir has started the last six games in place of Hughes.
“We have three post players right now who are pretty good players,” Braun said. “And I hope that will continue to be a positive for us. I think it will be. I just hope we don’t make a big issue of that and continue to use it as a positive. Somebody’s starting, somebody’s not. If you’re a team guy, it’s a positive.”