Jabari Bird said his mandate from the Cal coaching staff is not to shoot more, but to be aggressive.
“Stay in attack mode,” the sophomore guard said after scoring a season-high 18 points in the Bears’ 72-52 win over Cal Poly on Wednesday night in front of an announced crowd of 5,712.
Bird scored just six points in the first half, but led the way with 12 after intermission as the Bears (4-1) pulled away from a Cal Poly team determined to milk the clock and keep Cal out of its transition game.
Bird, the former McDonald’s All-American from Salesian High, finished the game with just 10 shot attempts.
“I always want him to be aggressive,” Cal coach Cuonzo Martin said. “You have to be sound. Be in attack mode. Make the right decisions. Not let the defense speed you up. Be in control.
“He’s getting better, he’s getting a lot better. It takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Point guard Tyrone Wallace contributed 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists and Jordan Mathews scored 17 for the Bears, who might still have been out of sorts a bit after flying back from New York City last weekend, Martin said.
“I just felt like even in practice guys were a step slow. I felt it myself,” said Martin, whose team beat then No. 23 Syracuse before losing to No. 7 Texas at Madison Square Garden. “It’s good to get this one out of the way.”
The Mustangs (2-2), who blitzed through the Big West tournament to earn an unexpected NCAA tournament bid last season, stayed close for 30 minutes by maintaining a slow offensive tempo and working to keep Cal out of transition.
“We knew those guys would compete,” Martin said. “They force you to make plays, they double the post. They got their defense back so we couldn’t get easy transition baskets.”