After putting up a lot of points in a pair of easy victories, California had a tough time getting into a rhythm when it had to face a zone defense for the first time.
That could be Sam Houston State's formula for success, though the Bearkats have struggled to find the defensive form that has led to 50 wins over the previous two seasons.
As Tyrone Wallace looks to stay hot at home, the 14th-ranked Golden Bears will try to improve offensively while moving to 2-0 in the Las Vegas Invitational on Monday night.
California opened the season in a bit of a groove, averaging 91.0 points while shooting 50 percent in beating Rice and Santa Barbara by a combined 50.
That changed Friday when the Bears shot just 43.6 percent - including 3 for 23 from 3-point range - and committed 15 turnovers while facing a 2-3 zone in a hard-fought 70-62 victory over visiting East Carolina in the first of four games in the Las Vegas Invitational.
''You want this early, you want to see that against a team that normally plays zone,'' said Cuonzo Martin, who became the first coach in school history to open 3-0 in each of his first two seasons. ''I'd rather have it now, just to feel it.''
Wallace, the active leader among Pac-12 players in scoring (1,260), assists (316) and steals (114), led the way with 20 points against the Pirates. Jaylen Brown had 16 points and 10 rebounds and fellow prized freshman Ivan Rabb added 14 points, 13 boards and five blocks.
Wallace leads all Pac-12 players with 21.3 points per game after becoming the first player since Allen Crabbe in 2012-13 to score at least 20 in the first three games. Crabbe was also the last Golden Bear to have four straight 20-point performances to open a season.
Sam Houston State (1-2) ranked second in the Southland Conference in defensive field-goal percentage (44.0) en route to 24 victories in 2013-14 and led the league in that category (39.0) during a 26-win campaign in 2014-15.
The Bearkats, however, haven't been nearly as stingy so far in November. They've allowed an average of 87.7 points on 50.9 percent shooting - including a 41.3 mark from 3-point range.
Sam Houston State let Southern Illinois hit 9 of 18 from beyond the arc and sent the Salukis to the free-throw line 33 times in Saturday's 86-81 overtime home defeat.
Dakarai Henderson finished with 18 points for the Bearkats, Aurimas Majauskas scored 16 and Ameer Jackson had 14 off the bench. Henderson ranks third among all Southland players with 20.7 points per game while sinking 8 of 20 from 3-point range.
Aside from a 114-92 home win over St. Thomas (NAIA), the Bearkats have been outrebounded by a combined 73-61 in losses to SMU and Southern Illinois. That doesn't bode well heading into a matchup with a Cal team that has a plus-15.0 rebounding margin.
Rabb has posted a 14-point, 13-board double-double in two of his first three career games.
"California has an outstanding team," Sam Houston State coach Jason Hooten told the team's official website. "We're going to learn a lot about ourselves on this trip."
The Bears, who face the Bearkats for the first time, conclude the tournament in Las Vegas against San Diego State on Thursday and either West Virginia or Richmond on Friday.