By Morris Phillips
Nevada and Cal engaged in an old-fashioned shootout Tuesday with a pair of former prep adversaries turned NBA hopefuls at the center of the action.
For a crowd of nearly 8,000, the Bears’ 92-84 win was satisfying entertainment. For coaches David Carter and Mike Montgomery, not as much; they immediately harped on the lack of defense.
“I think we’ve got to do a better job of putting pressure on guys and just having that toughness defensively, collectively, and then if they make shots there really isn’t much we can do about it,” Carter said of his Wolf Pack’s defensive effort.
“I thought we made a lot of mistakes defensively,” Montgomery said. “I think there’s still things we’re learning about how to play defense. Some of the things that we didn’t do, we tried to talk about.”
Nevada forged an early seven-point lead, 17-10 then watched the floodgates open for Cal. The Bears went on a huge run, finished the first half with 49 points and shot 55 percent for the game. The Wolf Pack clearly missed three injured players in their frontcourt, and suffered even more when forward Ronnie Stevens, Jr. was saddled with foul problems. Senior guard Justin Cobbs had no problem navigating on the offensive end as he racked up 15 points and eight assists, and did a great job of getting his freshman teammates involved offensively.
The Wolf Pack’s Deonte Burton stood as the counterpoint to Cal’s big scoring night as he put up 26 points and led a brief, Nevada second-half run. Burton, the 6’3” senior, battled Cobbs many times as a prep in Los Angeles, and did so again on Tuesday. When Burton got inside for a couple of big dunks and drew fouls, it didn’t sit well with Cobbs, eventhough he termed himself and Burton as friends.
“I wouldn’t say he got under my skin,” Cobbs said. “It’s just frustrating sometimes when the calls were going the other way and myself being so competitive. He was doing a great job of getting body contact and getting some calls, but it’s just the game of basketball.”
Six Bears finished in double figures, and Montgomery’s tweaking of his starting lineup in the wake of Cal’s disappointing loss at Santa Barbara seemed to work just fine. Freshman Jordan Mathews and Ricky Kreklow got starts, while Tyrone Wallace and Jabari Bird came off the bench. Mathews, Wallace and Bird all scored in double figures along with Cobbs, Richard Solomon and David Kravish.
“We just wanted to change,” Montgomery said of the lineup switch. “If we can keep it competitive, we want to. We want to keep guys motivated. We don’t want guys to get stale or take anything for granted.”
The win allowed Montgomery to move up the all-time victories chart with 664 wins, tied for 27th with UCLA legend John Wooden. When asked about Wooden, Montgomery took the route of humility.
“The number of wins doesn’t mean much to anybody, but when they say that’s John Wooden, all of a sudden everybody perks up. I have a little work to do. I’m 10 national championships short (of Wooden). There’s nothing to compare other than the fact that I’ve got the same number of wins. That’s the only comparison there is,” Montgomery said.
The Bears face Fresno State on Saturday at 3:00pm at Haas Pavilion.