- Associated Press - Saturday, December 17, 2016

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - A one-time high school McDonald’s All-American, Jabari Bird is a senior at California now, and ready to unveil the best of his game.

Bird scored a career-high 25 points to lead Cal over Cal Poly 81-55 on Saturday night, and he sounded determined to keep his play at a high level.

“It’s a waste of time to put in all that work in the summer to get ready for the season and then the lights come on and you just don’t show (up),” Bird said. “I’ve been trusting my game this year. I look to keep it going.”

Bird always has paired a rare combination of athleticism and 3-point shooting ability, but injuries and inconsistency have prevented him from reaching his full blossom. Cal coach Cuonzo Martin sees a change in Bird.

“It’s his senior year, he’s more settled, he’s relaxed,” Martin said. “He understands what he wants to do as a basketball player and knows what we need from him.”

Bird shot 10 for 16 from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-point distance, and eclipsed his previous best of 24 points. It was his second 20-point performance in four outings since returning from a six-game absence because of back spasms.

“Obviously, he’s an explosive scorer, an explosive athlete,” said Ivan Rabb, the Bears’ pre-season All-America forward, who scored 18 points before fouling out. “We need him out there. He plays the game the right way. He’s not selfish. We’ve got to continue to play together as a team. We did that tonight.”

Charlie Moore had 10 points and five assists for Cal (9-2), which shot 53 percent.

Kyle Toth made four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points to lead Cal Poly (5-6). Victor Joseph and Ridge Shipley added 12 points apiece for the Mustangs, who shot just 32 percent.

The Bears were sluggish offensively for stretches early and trailed 19-13 with 8:30 in the first half before outscoring the Mustangs 21-3 the rest of the period. Rabb scored on a post-up move to give Cal the lead for good at 23-22, and by halftime the Bears were up 34-22.

“They have NBA first-round draft picks that will be playing in the three-letter league, and I love it,” said Cal Poly coach Joe Callero. “I think it’s a great game for our players and coaches to help us continue to tweak things that we have to improve.”

BIG PICTURE

Cal: The Bears nudged past a team from their glory days by winning their 27th consecutive home game at Haas Pavilion. That eclipsed the school record of 26 straight home wins, achieved by legendary former coach Pete Newell’s team from Dec. 27, 1958 through Dec. 16, 1960. Those Bears won the 1959 NCAA championship and lost in the 1960 national title game.

“There’s a lot of tradition and history at Cal. A lot of great players have come through,” Martin said. “We won’t talk about numbers. We just fight for our home court.” This Cal team has not lost at home since an 80-69 defeat to Oregon on Feb. 25, 2015.

Cal Poly: The Mustangs were outrebounded for the eighth time in 10 games against Division I opponents. Cal Poly entered the game ranked 320th nationally with a minus-5.2 rebound margin, but the Mustangs actually battled well on the boards before Cal finished with a scant 39-38 advantage. It was an encouraging sign for Cal Poly, which needs to keep it up in order to compete near the top of the Big West Conference.

AN EARLY ENDORSEMENT

Callero saw the Bears play early in the season when both Bird and Rabb were either out or struggling with injuries. “Cal is back to full strength now,” he said. “They really look like a team that could compete with the top four in the Pac-12. They are building an NCAA (tournament) resume.”

UP NEXT

California gets a chance to test themselves against one of the nation’s elite teams when they host No. 13 Virginia on Wednesday. Cal traveled last season to Charlottesville, Virginia, falling 63-62 in overtime.

Cal Poly stays in Pac-12 mode when they visit Washington on Tuesday. Cal Poly lost 96-74 at Arizona State on Nov. 13.


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