Merced High's aura of invincibility was destroyed two weeks ago when it dropped a stunning decision to Pitman.
The Central California Conference-opening loss not only left Merced in last place, it showed the rest of the conference the Bears could be had.
The double-digit loss to Pitman followed a close loss to Edison of Fresno, and it sent coach Marcus Knott to work.
"We were getting stagnant, so we got back to practice and started working," said Knott, whose club has won the last three CCC titles. "We need a fast pace, even in a half-court offense, to play at our best."
It took only a few workouts for Merced to return to form.
The Bears reeled off back-to-back conference wins, and followed those with an 85-75 win over Pittsburg in Saturday's Martin Luther King Shootout at Modesto Christian.
"Pitman was a big surprise, pretty shocking actually," senior forward Brian Cooksey said. "You could see us going harder in practice after that."
It's back to business as usual for the Bears, who pushed a fast tempo for an early lead over Pittsburg. The Pirates got within six with 2:55 to go, but Reggie Nelson (26 points, six rebounds, five assists) and Otis Carey (17 points) combined to score the next six points to make it 79-67.
"We can go at a fast pace because we've got good players coming off our bench," said Nelson, whose club averages 69 points a game. "We play in practice and sometimes our bench will beat our starters."
Merced, which returns to CCC play Wednesday against crosstown rival Golden Valley, rotated liberally against Pittsburg. The Bears (14-4) were playing their best ball, though, with Cooksey, Nelson and Carey on the court.
While Nelson and Carey were handling the ball and providing an outside threat, the 6-foot-3 Cooksey worked under the basket for most of his 16 points and 10 rebounds.
"We're getting better at finding the open player when we face a double-team," Cooksey said. "You asked about chemistry and I think we've got it.
"Some of us have played together since we were young, a lot of AAU ball with coach."
And Knott made them work hard in anticipation of the challenges they would face.
It's why the Bears battle underneath, despite their tallest player being the 6-3 Cooksey.
"We were usually one of the shorter teams, so we'd have to fight for the ball," he said. "That's the way we still play because we're still seeing a lot of teams that are taller."
The lack of height explains why Nelson, a 5-11 guard who plays on the perimeter, could be seen attacking the boards.
"Everyone has to rebound," said Nelson. "Grab the rebound and push upcourt, that's when we're at our best. We want that other to tire out from the running."