Following an 83-63 win Monday night against CSU Bakersfield, the Bears moved to 2-1 on the season — for the first time since the 2020-21 campaign.
Though the Bears aspire to go far beyond the nine wins they had that season, a win is still a step in the right direction.
In just three games of the Mark Madsen era, Cal has earned two-thirds of its win total last season.
“We’re on the first step of a journey and we have an incredible amount of work to do. I’m extremely happy for the guys, but this is not a celebration night … We have so much work to do and we’re excited about that process,” Madsen said.
The Bears will continue their journey as they seek to build a winning streak against Montana State at home Thursday. This will conclude Cal’s four-game home stand before the blue and gold travel south for the SoCal Challenge.
Standing at an even 1-1 record, the Bobcats are entering Haas Pavilion with a strong offensive attack, averaging 85.5 points per game on 40% shooting from three. Madsen and the Bears have struggled to defend the three, allowing St. Thomas to shoot 42.9%, Pacific to shoot 50% and CSU Bakersfield to shoot 41.7%. Possibly accounting for the woes behind the arc, Cal has been without one of its top perimeter defenders, Keonte Kennedy.
“Keonte will be back shortly,” Madsen said. “Keonte will fit seamlessly. He’s a phenomenal shooter. He’s a great defender and he’ll be a very strong, key member of this team.”
As the Bears await their transfer to return from injury, the team has been led by Kennedy’s fellow transfer, Jaylon Tyson.
Since receiving eligibility from the NCAA following an appeal, Tyson’s impact for Cal can be found beyond the box score.
The 6’7” guard is a three-level scorer who can push the tempo of the offense while dominating the boards and finding the open man — he is averaging 16.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and five assists per game. Needless to say, there’s still a long season ahead of Tyson, but his two-game sample size is very impressive.
“(Tyson is) still finding his rhythm. He was extremely good last game. He was extremely good tonight and he’s still finding his rhythm, and he was impressive out there,” Madsen said.
As skillful as Tyson is, Cal’s offense runs through its two veteran guards, Jalen Cone and Devin Askew. Both players have started their season struggling to remain efficient on both ends of the court.
However, the duo may be shaking off the rust. In their most recent game against Bakersfield, Cone and Askew combined for 35 points and led the team in plus/minus. This might be the confidence both players needed heading into Thursday’s game.
Averaging 18.3 points, Cone currently leads the Bears in scoring and is a reason why they have nearly seen an 20-point increase in average points per game, going from 58.3 to 77.7.
Though the blue and gold have improved in scoring, still, turnovers, fouls and defense remain in question. To win games, Madsen’s point of emphasis to his players has been to limit turnovers and remain disciplined on defense.
Despite being heavily favored before Thursday’s game, the Bears will look to improve from Monday’s win as their nonconference schedule wears on.
“We’re just staying on edge. We have a lot to prove. This win doesn’t dictate anything. It doesn’t mean we came a long way. We just got to learn from our mistakes — we made a lot of mistakes tonight — so get in the film room, learn from our mistakes and just continue to grow,” Cone said.