California’s Jaylen Brown found himself in foul trouble in his debut and was upset with his turnovers in his second game.
Coach Cuonzo Martin was pleased with his defense, however, and is confident that the heralded freshman will continue to get better.
Brown looks to take another step in the right direction Friday night when the 15th-ranked Golden Bears host East Carolina in their first game in the Las Vegas Invitational.
After scoring 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting in 15 foul-plagued minutes in last Friday’s 97-65 win over Rice, Brown – one of the top-ranked prospects in the 2015 class – provided a glimpse of his potential as California raced past UC Santa Barbara 85-67 on Monday. The 6-foot-7 forward had a highlight-reel dunk on a breakaway after stealing the ball and finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, but lamented afterward on his four turnovers.
”He studies the game,” said Martin, who also credited Brown for his defense on John Green. ”He understands what he needs to do to take the next steps.”
For the second game in a row the Bears had all five starters score in double figures, with senior Tyrone Wallace leading the way with 24. He also had six assists while 6-11 Ivan Rabb, another highly touted freshman, added 12 points for Cal, which was 19 of 29 on 2-pointers but 6 of 22 from beyond the arc.
Despite the poor shooting from deep, Martin has been pleased with the ball movement and how his team is pushing the tempo.
“We try to share the ball. It’s very important when you have multiple guys that can score and make plays,” he said. “The most important thing is California winning the game. What they work on so much is who’s the next guy. If the next guy’s a better shooter, I know I need to make this pass.”
The Bears improved to 9-2 at Haas Pavilion under Martin and have won 11 of 12 against unranked nonconference opponents. After hosting East Carolina and Sam Houston State in the first rounds of this tournament, the event moves to Las Vegas for a meeting with San Diego State on Thanksgiving followed by a matchup with West Virginia or Richmond the next day.
This will be Cal’s first meeting with East Carolina (2-0), picked to finish eighth in the 11-team American Athletic Conference.
The Pirates have not had any success against ranked opponents over the past dozen years, losing 22 in a row since beating No. 13 Marquette in December 2002.
They’re coming off an 88-74 win over Charlotte on Monday, as senior Michel Nzege had a career-high 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting with Caleb White scoring 20 while hitting 6 of 7 shots. East Carolina shot 56.6 percent and made 7 of 11 3-pointers after shooting 31.1 percent and going 4 of 17 from beyond the arc in last Friday’s win over Grambling State.
“We struggled in the first game but offensively we were sharp, close to 60 percent from the field and 63 percent from 3,” said coach Jeff Lebo, who earned his 300th career victory. “It was a good overall team win against an instate rival so hopefully that’ll give us some momentum as we go west to play Cal, who’s a top (15) team with three potential NBA first-rounders.”