NEW YORK (AP) — Cuonzo Martin wasn’t around during California’s troubles with Syracuse, though he knew all about it.
That’s over now and the Golden Bears have their first big victory under their new coach.
Jordan Mathews scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half, and California routed the No. 23 Orange 73-59 on Thursday night to reach the championship game of the 2K Classic.
The Bears finally broke through in the third meeting between the teams in the last three seasons. Syracuse ousted Cal in the 2013 NCAA tournament en route to the Final Four and beat the Bears again a year ago in the Maui Invitational.
“We lost to them the past two years, and with guys that were returning it plays on your mind,” said Martin, the former Tennessee coach. “But I thought our guys did a great job of accepting the challenge.”
California (3-0) seized control by hitting four straight 3-pointers late in the first half. Jabari Bird added 16 points and David Kravish had 12 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
The Golden Bears will face No. 10 Texas, which beat Iowa 71-57 in the first semifinal, on Friday night.
“It’s a big win for our program,” Bird said. “We came out here, we’re not ranked. We’re kind of an underdog team that’s going up against a great team in Syracuse. They put up a great fight and we got a great team ‘W’ tonight.”
Kaleb Joseph and Michael Gbinije each scored 13 points for Syracuse (2-1), which couldn’t get much going in front of its orange-clad fans at Madison Square Garden.
“They showed up tonight and we didn’t,” Orange coach Jim Boeheim said.
Leading scorer Rakeem Christmas was limited to eight points before fouling out with 6:23 left and Syracuse trailing by 14 points. He came in averaging 18 points and 12.5 rebounds.
Cal’s four straight 3s, two by Bird, extended a two-point edge to 34-20 in the final minute of the first half. He made another for the Bears’ first basket of the season half before Mathews, who had just a pair of free throws before halftime, took charge of the offense. His three free throws after being fouled made it a 17-point game and he followed with a layup that pushed it to 47-28 with about 15 minutes left.
“I thought Cal was really good on offense at the end of the first half,” Boeheim said. “We couldn’t get our offense going at all.”
California: The Bears had scored 90 points in their first two games under Martin. They hadn’t done that in consecutive games since 2002. … As a freshman, Bird had 17 points in the Bears’ 92-81 loss to the Orange last year in Maui.
Syracuse: Syracuse was playing its 168th game at Madison Square Garden. The longtime Big East members have played a game here in 33 straight seasons. … The Orange hadn’t allowed either of their first two opponents to reach 48 points. Cal reached that total with almost 12 minutes to play.
NOT THIS TIME
It was just the third loss in this event for Syracuse, which won the championship in 2004 and again in 2009. The Orange’s 13-2 record coming into the game was the best in the 20-year history of the tournament.
OK, BUT NOT AWARD WORTHY
Tyrone Wallace was the Pac-12 player of the week after averaging 20 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists against Alcorn State and Kennesaw State. He scored only 10 points Thursday on 4-of-12 shooting, but added six assists and three steals.
California: Against No. 10 Texas on Friday.
Syracuse: Against Iowa on Friday.
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