Cal runs past Nevada in a high-scoring shootout

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.

Santa Barbara’s picturesque, just not for the Cal Bears

UCSB’s junior guard Zalmico Harmon dished out 10 assists for the Gauchos on Friday night. (Presidio Sports Photos)
UCSB’s junior guard Zalmico Harmon dished out 10 assists for the Gauchos on Friday night. (Presidio Sports Photos)

By Morris Phillips

In the last 30 years, UCLA has agreed to play in the gym of one of the other nine Division I basketball programs scattered across the greater Los Angeles area just four times.  In 1988, the Bruins ventured down the San Diego Freeway to help UC Irvine open their just built Bren Center and went home losers.

They haven’t been back since.

Mike Montgomery’s probably had dinner in Moraga more times than he’s agreed to bring one of his Stanford or California teams to play the St. Mary’s Gaels in their gym (once).  The Cal Bears hadn’t brought one of their basketball teams to beautiful Santa Barbara in 34 seasons. Kentucky plays at Western Kentucky?  Forget it.

There’s a reason for all of this: basketball coaches shrewdly avoid playing in places that are nearby, where an upset is a possibility, and a win for the little guy could make headlines that local, recruitable athletes would undoubtedly notice.

Montgomery knows better; he’s been smartly crafting who his teams play for years.  But the state is struggling financially, so UC schools have been encouraged to play each other more frequently to keep all the money in the system.

Well, in part due to all of that Cal became the first Pac-12 team to venture into the Thunderdome in 11 years and the improving Gauchos and leading scorer Alan Williams were ready.  Williams had 24 points and 12 rebounds, and UCSB pulled away from Cal in the second half to win, 72-65.

“We’ve been so close to breaking through with a big home win in the past and just couldn’t get over the humps, so this was pretty special,” UCSB Coach Bob Williams said.

The Gauchos defeated the Bears for the first time after 10 previous defeats in the series between the two schools.

The Bears’ defense again wilted in the second half allowing the Gauchos to shoot 59 percent and score 45 points.  Meanwhile, the Bears were struggling, shooting just 36 percent for the game and unable to answer UCSB’s firepower down the stretch.

Freshman Jordan Mathews led the Bears with a career-best 22 points.  Justin Cobbs chipped in 13, and David Kravish had 12.

The Bears used a rally to grab the lead, 28-27, at halftime, but UCSB surged in the second half, and hit four big free throws down the stretch to clinch it.

The Bears fell to 6-3 on the season with Nevada up next at Haas Pavilion on Tuesday.

Michael Duca on Cal basketball

by Michael Duca

BERKELEY–There were a couple of performances from last Monday night’s game at Haas Pavilion against the UC Irvine Anteaters that Cal put on that really didn’t even jump out at you from the stat sheet. That were critically important Tyrone Wallace had a career high 11 rebounds from the lane position last night and he had Justin Cobbs as Cal’s point guard. When they lost in the consolation round to Dayton in Maui David Kravish was just about worn out by them and Richard Solomon was missing his second straight game with a cornea operation.

The Bears had no real post presence they couldn’t go inside outside so all they could do is shoot outside the zone and Cobb put up 31 points and they lost by two or three handful of points about 18. Cal’s Sam Singer had three points but he had three rebounds and Cal assisted on all three quarters of their baskets and things just looked a whole lot better than they did in the game versus Dayton in Maui.

The offense looked pretty good and the defense looked even better in the first half, Irvine missed ten straight and then they hit two out of three and missed eight more and rode in the half so the end of the half shooting hitting two of their last 21 shots and your probably not going to win a lot of basketball games doing that. Solomon is now sporting goggles from getting his eye scratched in the Dayton game and has decided to wear goggles for the rest of the year.

Solomon was not instructed to by doctors he didn’t need to it’s his own choice he doesn’t want to go through that again he doesn’t want to get someone’s finger in his eye. That was a pretty nasty abrasion, Solomon’s eye was swollen shut for two days he could not see and he could not open it. Getting back out on the floor he was rusty and you could tell a week without game action and his timing was not fully there but he set the tone literally from the get go.

Solomon lacked ten inches on Irvine’s center from Senagal, Mamadou Ndiaye who is 7’7 and one of the three or four tallest players ever to play college basketball and Solomon won the opening tip and he did it with climbing athleticism and that is basically how he got Ndiaye to get into foul trouble early in the first half and he picked up his second foul just about 3:50 into the game and sat the rest of the first half. Ndiaye got five and half minutes play in the second half.

Solomon challenged Ndiaye going straight at him early in the game and scored the first five points of the game for Cal and in the second half David Kravish hit Cal’s first ten points and had 12 of the first 16 and he hit six shots in a row and five of them were Ndiaye who was in the game in the second half. So instead of lurking in the backs of too many peoples minds and he is huge and he does have a wing span.

Most big men can get up close to Ndiaye and use their athletic ability and quickness to create some space while he’s trying to back away and make shots and they did. They hit a lot of mid range jumpers.

Michael Duca does commentary on Cal basketball each week for Sportstalk radio

Cal passes big test against 7’6″ Ndiaye and UC Irvine

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By Morris Phillips

The 7’6” sensation known as Mamadou Ndiaye came to Haas Pavilion on Monday night and the Cal Bears needed to quickly determine whether the Senegalese freshman would be an oddity or a menace like he was three weeks ago in UC Irvine’s wire-to-wire victory over Washington in which he had 18 points, eight rebounds and an eye-popping nine blocks.

And what was the answer to the Ndiaye conundrum?  Incomplete.

In Cal’s 73-56 victory, Ndiaye played just 10 minutes due to foul trouble and he and the Anteaters couldn’t shoot a lick early, trailing by double digits for the final 34 minutes of the game.   Consequently, Ndiaye managed to dominate only the post-game quote sheet.

“That guy, when he posts up he has got his hands right at your face,” Cal’s 6’9” David Kravish said.  “You are looking right into his chest.”

“I was staring at his chest the whole game,” 6’11” Richard Solomon said.

“He’s a big dude,” Coach Mike Montgomery said.  “He got into our heads a little bit… just because guys had to figure out what they could do.  We knew that he doesn’t like to come away from the basket very much.”

What could have been a long night and a close game wasn’t in great part due to Kravish, who stepped away from the basket and hit a number of shots on his way to 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Justin Cobbs, who’s never shy about taking his game into the paint, which he did frequently Monday in compiling a game-best nine assists.

Now that the affable Ndiaye–who just last year was tooling around Huntington Beach on his oversized bicycle—has played nine games in his collegiate career, there’s telling tape for opposing coaches to dissect.  Montgomery’s among the best of the practitioners and his Bears took heed, only twice getting too close to Ndiaye and his ridiculous wingspan to have their shots blocked.  Instead, Cal’s ball movement for the most part was crisp and leading to numerous, high-percentage shots.

Meanwhile, Ndiaye had trouble getting out of his own way.

“He didn’t make the adjustments he needed to make,” UC Irvine Coach Russell Turner said.  “He got an offensive foul early, got two rebound fouls.  He needs to avoid those mistakes.”

Cal got a major lift from Solomon’s return from missing the final two games in Maui due to a corneal abrasion.  Solomon wore protective glasses, something he says he will do for the remainder of the season, not wanting to revisit the painful and scary eye injury that took place when an opponent inadvertently caught his eye.  Again it was apparent that Cal’s much better at both ends, but especially defensively, when both Kravish and Solomon are in the game together.

In Solomon’s absence, Syracuse and Dayton both had big shooting nights in handing the Bears their first two losses of the season.

The Bears travel to Santa Barbara Friday night where they will meet the Gauchos before returning home next Tuesday to face Nevada.

Cal tops Southern Utah, improves to 4-0

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By Morris Phillips

Soon after the opening tip on Monday at Haas Pavilion, things went south for the Southern Utah Thunderbirds.

The Cal Bears scored the first six baskets of the game and established an early 14-0 lead.  From there, the Bears cruised to a 75-47 victory to improve to 4-0 on the young season.

“It was 12-0 before we knew it, and we had a hard time coming back from that,” SUU Coach Nick Robinson said.  “We got some good shots, but they weren’t falling for us.”

Robinson was a role player on Cal coach Mike Montgomery’s best and final teams at Stanford, graduating there in 2005.  In a short time since, Robinson has elevated himself to a Division I head coach after several stints as an assistant at various programs.

While Robinson’s rapid ascent is quite impressive, his team’s performance on Monday wasn’t.  The Thunderbirds struggled with the bigger, quicker Bears from the jump.

“We substituted a lot early,” Montgomery said.  “It seemed pretty obvious that they were outmatched.”

“They were flat-out better than we were,” Robinson said.  “(Cal) was more disciplined defensively, they did a great job on the boards, and hit open shots that we weren’t capable of hitting.”

All 13 Bears that suited up got action in the first half on Monday.  And although the frequent substitutions didn’t do much for continuity, it didn’t affect progress on the scoreboard.  The Bears led 33-10 after 15 minutes with the Thunderbirds shooting 22 percent in the first half.

Richard Solomon contributed 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in the win.  Tyrone Wallace had 15, and the trio of Ricky Kreklow, Jordan Mathews and David Kravish had nine each.

A.J. Hess led Southern Utah with 15 points.  The Thunderbirds shot 29 percent for the game and committed 15 turnovers.

Cal sees a jump in competition on Monday when they travel to Maui and open the Invitational against Arkansas.

Bears squeeze past Oakland, 64-60 behind freshman Bird

By Morris Phillips

Friday night at Haas Pavilion, Oakland was a lot closer to Berkeley than anyone in a blue-and-gold uniform could bear.

The Grizzlies from suburban Detroit are known for their challenging non-conference schedule and armed with prolific three-point shooter Travis Bader, they gave Cal all they could handle in the Bears’ come-from-behind 64-60 victory.

“There was no question that Oakland played harder than we did,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said.  “We were late to loose balls, we weren’t attentive to details.”

Oakland led by as many as nine points in the first half, and the game was tied with 2:10 remaining as the Grizzlies’ zone defense, hustle and the shooting of Bader, who finished with 21 points, kept Cal on its heels.

Cal managed to keep pace in the second half as freshman Jabari Bird heated up, finishing with a career-best 24 points, including six made three pointers.  Bird’s three with 1:59 remaining broke a 56-all tie and gave the Bears the lead for good.

“Basically, I caught it and was open and had been hitting three’s all night, so if we were going to lose this game, I wanted to lose the game with that… but it went in and we won,” Bird said with all the carefree wisdom of an 18-year old.

Justin Cobbs contributed 13 points and five assists, and Richard Solomon had 11 points and 17 rebounds to aid Cal’s cause.   Bader had assistance from Kahlil Felder and Tommy McCune who had 13 and 11 points respectively for Oakland.

Oakland fell to 0-3 with earlier losses to No. 12 North Carolina and No. 24 UCLA.  The Grizzlies played without second-leading scorer Duke Mondy and forward Dante Williams, who were accused of sexual assault in Southern California earlier this week.  The pair were cleared in an initial police investigation but suspended by the university pending further fact finding.

Cal improved to 3-0 on the season with a matchup with Southern Utah up next at Haas on Monday night.   The Bears improved to 36-6 in non-conference matchups during Montgomery’s five plus years as coach.

The Bears shot just 33 percent in the opening half as Oakland’s zone made Cal’s cumbersome mix of veterans and freshman a bit tentative.  At halftime and then early in the second half, an animated Montgomery did all he could to wake his guys up.

“We had five minutes alone, just sitting there silent, and then he came in and talked to us like it was a regular game,” Bird said of Montgomery’s halftime prodding.  “And then right before we walked out he said get the energy up and play like we know we can.”

Cal’s Wallace shot on in season-opening win over Coppin St.

By Morris Phillips

Among Mike Montgomery’s mix of veterans and greenhorns, sophomore Tyrone Wallace may possess the greatest potential for growth.  In the season-opener on Friday, it appeared Wallace may be ready to realize that potential.

Wallace collected 20 points, seven assists and six rebounds in Cal’s 83-64 win over Coppin State at Haas Pavilion.   The still rail-thin swingman looked much improved from his up-and-down freshman campaign in which he played in every game, and started 20 times, but shot just 34 percent, including just 22 percent from three.

“Basketball, 24-7, this off-season,” Wallace said when asked about the growth in his game.  “All the work I put in is really translating over to games and I am really confident right now in my shot.”

Wallace knocked down half of his 14 shots, including three of six three-point attempts on his way to leading the Bears in scoring.  Cal depended on heavily on its starters in dispatching the Eagles, playing them extensively in a first half in which the Bears established a 15-point, halftime lead.  Cal’s shooting and wow-factor improved in the second half as high-flying freshman Jabari Bird put his imprint on the game.

Justin Cobbs added 16 points and six rebounds, and Bird chipped in 14 points and seven rebounds.  Coppin State was led by Sterling Smith with 16 points and Arnold Fripp with 10.

The Bears have won all six of their season openers under Coach Montgomery and are attempting to make a fifth NCAA appearance under the watch of the veteran coach.

“There were a lot of bright spots,” Montgomery said.  “We had some really good individual performances…  I thought we lost our attention span defensively a little bit.  There was probably a point in time where we didn’t feel threatened so we didn’t play quite as hard defensively.”

The Bears are picked in the middle of a crowded Pac-12 conference race, primarily because the eight newcomers outnumber the five returners.  Wallace stands out because he’s not quite a veteran, but with 21 starts under his belt, experienced enough to know what Montgomery demands at both ends of the floor.  The Bakersfield native became a natural at the defensive end, but given his statistics, he could make a great deal of growth on offense.  Friday all that was apparent as Wallace knocked down open shots and found his teammates when appropriate.

According to Coppin State Coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell, the Bears offensive versatility gave his Eagles fits, as much as their lack of size made them vulnerable to the Bears in the paint.

“They shot the threes, made us extend a lot more, and then they started taking it in,” Mitchell said. “They did a tremendous job.”

The Bears host familiar opponent Denver on Tuesday in the continuation of a four-game homestand.  Cal may not get its first real test until Thanksgiving when the Bears travel to Maui and open the tournament there against Arkansas.