BERKELEY, Calif. — California coach Mike Montgomery had an uneasy feeling about his team long before the opening tip-off against Washington State.
The Golden Bears were late to the morning shootaround, late returning to the locker room and, for much of the first half, late getting back on defense.
A change in attitude, coupled with a strong second half from Richard Solomon, got Cal back on schedule.
Solomon had eight of his 12 points after halftime to go with nine rebounds, and the Bears remained unbeaten in Pac-12 play with a 76-51 win over the Cougars on Saturday.
“We didn’t come out with the same energy we’ve been coming out with,” said point guard Justin Cobbs, who had 16 points, seven assists and five rebounds. “We weren’t moving. We were playing on the perimeter, not driving at all. “
The Bears (14-4, 5-0) had to weather an early 18-4 run by the Cougars and then pulled away in the second half to secure their sixth straight win. It extended Cal’s best start in conference since winning opening 7-0 in 2003.
Tired of settling for mid-range jumpers and shots beyond the arc, coach Mike Montgomery’s team decided to go straight at Washington State’s pesky zone defense.
A better effort from their own defense was just as critical in keeping the Bears tied for first place in the Pac-12.
“We were not ready to play,” Montgomery said. “There just wasn’t any intensity. We were really back on our heels, not aggressive to the basket, the whole thing. We were just standing there.”
Solomon, who added three blocked shots, fell one rebound shy of a seventh double-double this season, but helped the Bears stay perfect in the Pac-12 with four dunks in the second half. Three of them came on consecutive possessions while the fourth put Cal up 63-46.
D.J. Shelton scored 17 points with 11 rebounds for Washington State, which played its fourth straight game without leading scorer DaVonte Lacy.
“We came out hard in the first half but could not really sustain it.” Cougars coach Ken Bone said. “They came out and punched us in the mouth. That is hard to take and hard to see, but (Cal) is a team that is undefeated in league and very good on their home court.”
Montgomery, in his sixth season at Cal, moved into a tie with Lou Campanelli for the third-most wins in school history
Tyrone Wallace scored 13 points with four assists and four steals for the Bears, who outscored the Cougars 40-10 in the paint.
Without Lacy, who is out with a rib injury after missing two games earlier this season due to appendicitis, Washington State (8-10, 1-5) couldn’t keep up with Cal despite a strong run in the first half.
The Cougars fell behind 6-0 before switching to a 1-1-3 zone that the Bears struggled adjusting to.
Shelton scored six points during the run and Que Johnson added five, while Royce Woolridge’s layup put Washington State up 18-10.
Cal came back to lead 34-33 at the break then pulled away in the second half.
That allowed the Bears to keep pace with Arizona atop the Pac-12 standings. The two teams meet at Haas Pavilion on Feb. 1.
“We see the opportunity we have but we’re going to take it one game at a time,” Cobbs said. “If we come out and really defend, the offense will take care of itself.”
Jordan Mathews and Jeff Powers made 3-pointers and Solomon had a dunk on three straight possessions to put the Bears up 52-37 with 11:35 remaining. After an intentional foul by the Cougars, David Kravish scored on a short jumper that pushed Cal’s lead to 17.
Coming off a 32-point loss to Stanford on Wednesday, Washington State never got out of its offensive rut and remained winless at Haas Pavilion since 2008. The Cougars managed only a pair of baskets by Shelton through the first nine minutes of the second half, trailed by as much as 23, and shot just 34.0 percent overall.
“Our court-on-court defense for a long period of time was pretty good but our transition defense was very poor,” Bone said. “(The Bears) are really good off the bounce and they were hard to keep in front of us.”
Notes: Montgomery owns the third-most wins (277) in Pac-12 history behind ex-Arizona coach Lute Olson (327) and legendary former UCLA coach John Wooden (304). ... Solomon is one of only two players in the six BCS conferences averaging a double-double this season.