By Morris Phillips
You’d be wise to bring size when facing the California Golden Bears.
Another undersized opponent came to Haas Pavilion on Saturday, and the Bears stepped all over Fresno State in a 67-56 victory. The Bulldogs found themselves looking up from the start, missing 12 of their first 13 shots and getting out-rebounded 47-34.
The Bulldogs have just one player taller than 6’7” in their rotation—6’9” Alex Davis—and that lack of size and bulk opened the door for Cal’s Richard Solomon, who led the Bears with 17 points and 14 rebounds.
“I knew that they weren’t as big down low in the post, so coach wanted us to go down to me and David and just see if we could take advantage of that,” Solomon said. “I think that the biggest thing, when I catch the ball down low I’m not just looking to score. I’m looking to make the right play.”
Cal and Solomon enjoyed a healthy size advantage against Nevada—their previous opponent—and the Bears responded with their highest point total in more than a year. This time, the size advantage didn’t show in the score as both teams struggled throughout with their shooting. But the Bears had their way defensively, as the Bulldogs’ shot just 33 percent for the game.
“Defensively, I thought we did a really nice job holding them to 32 percent from the floor and 25 percent from three,” Cal Coach Mike Montgomery said. “Maybe our best defense came from the free throw line; we held them to fifty percent. We defended the heck out of that free throw line.”
Montgomery found himself in a joking mood after the game as usual. But this one was anything but ordinary as the long-time coach won for the 665th time at the Division I level allowing Montgomery to surpass John Wooden for sole possession of ninth place on the list for career wins. 117 of Montgomery’s wins have come during the last five seasons at Cal.
Ironically, the size advantage the Bears enjoyed this week might disappear during the Pac-12 league schedule where Cal will face big guys like Arizona State’s Jordan Bachyniski, UCLA’s Wear twins, USC’s 7’2” Omar Oraby and Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski. But the non-conference is another story, and the Cal’s size advantage allowed Solomon and 6’9” David Kravish to both register double-digit rebounds for only the second time this season.
The numerous missed shots and lack of rebounding by Fresno State allowed the Bears to build a double-digit lead 12 minutes into the game. But with 2:38 remaining, the Bulldogs sliced Cal’s lead to seven, 58-51, only to fumble a loose ball out of bounds with Davis and Paul Watson of Fresno the only players in the vicinity.
“That was the game right there,” Fresno State Coach Rodney Terry said. “They won the 50-50 battle, as much as I hate to say that, because we work on trying to win and we pride ourselves on winning those 50-50 battles in terms of loose balls.”
Montgomery tweaked his starting lineup once again, with freshmen Jordan Mathews pulled in favor of sophomore Tyrone Wallace. The changes made Cal more savvy defensively with Ricky Kreklow playing small forward and adding 11 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists.
The Bears get their final pre-season tuneup next Saturday against Creighton.