BERKELEY -- California’s tall guards plan to do their part in crashing the boards, pushing the ball and creating easy shots in transition.
For now, they’re still searching for consistency.
Tyrone Wallace had 20 points, seven assists and six rebounds, knocking down three of his team's nine 3-pointers to lead California past Coppin State 83-64 in the season opener for both schools Friday night in Haas Pavilion.
Justin Cobbs added 16 points and six assists for the Golden Bears, while highly touted freshman Jabari Bird had 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists in his much-anticipated collegiate debut.
“It's obvious Bird can do the spectacular,” coach Mike Montgomery said. “He can bring people out of their seats, there's no question about that.”
Cal looked well balanced with a deep and talented backcourt as the Bears work to replace departed leading scorer and Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe, who left school after his junior season for the NBA and is now with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Sterling Smith scored 16 points for a Coppin State team missing top player and preseason all-conference pick Michael Murray. The 6-foot-5 senior forward fractured a finger in his right, shooting hand. Doctors initially thought Murray would return for the opener but instead have him sitting out the first two weeks of the season to allow full healing to the bone.
Ricky Kreklow scored all eight of his points in the opening 4 minutes, 15 seconds for Cal, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12. Coach Mike Montgomery will make sure not to overwork Cobbs given Cal's deep and talented backcourt, as Cobbs had right foot surgery in August. Cal's dynamic point guard and leading returning scorer averaged 15.1 points and his 4.8 assists ranked fourth in the Pac-12.
Cobbs found Richard Solomon for a pretty dunk that put Cal ahead 57-37 with 13:08 remaining. But Coppin State made it interesting late, with Andre Armstrong's 3 cutting Cal's lead to 73-61 with 4:14 left before Bird and Cobbs answered with baskets on consecutive possessions.
It seems Cobbs will have help from sophomore Wallace and freshman Jordan Mathews, and Bird.
“When we get in transition we can be a dangerous team, we have a lot of athletes,” said Bird, who had 20 friends and family members in attendance for his first game.
A top recruit, the 6-foot-6 Bird is a guard from nearby Richmond's Salesian High School and expected to make an immediate impact as the Bears look to return to the NCAA tournament.
While Montgomery had expressed concern about his depth in the post, Cal had six different players with at least four rebounds and held a 51-37 advantage on the boards. David Kravish had 11 rebounds and four blocks, while Solomon contributed 10 boards and 10 points.
“We have a lot of big guards, get in transition,” Wallace said. “It just opens up so many things.”
Arnold Fripp added 11 points for Baltimore-based Coppin State, which plays in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and has eight newcomers this season.
“It was a situation where our kids gave up too many easy baskets, and when you play, especially against a team like Cal, you can’t just give up layup after layup after layup because you’re not getting back,” Coppin State coach Ron Mitchell said. That was a problem with us today.”
Both teams came out shooting well, combining for six 3-pointers in the opening 6 ½ minutes.
After Zach Burnham's basket pulled the Eagles within 17-13 at the 11:40 mark of the first half, Cal responded with a 23-10 run that included seven straight points from Wallace. He scored the Bears' final nine points of the half for a 43-28 lead at the break.
“There were a lot of bright spots,” Montgomery said. “We had some really good individual performances. I thought we lost our attention span defensively at some point.”
Earlier Friday, Cal announced sophomore guard Kahlil Johnson had left the team to focus on his academics. He will remain enrolled at the university. His playing time likely would have been limited this season.
Montgomery, the ninth-winningest active Division I men's head coach, moved three victories from tying Oregon State's Slats Gill for third place on the conference wins list after passing Washington's Hec Edmundson last season.
The game served as a nightcap in a doubleheader following the No. 9 Cal women's team's 70-51 victory over Long Beach State.