By Morris Phillips
Mike Montgomery’s carefully crafted non-conference schedule led to big doings on the court as the Bears blew past Denver on Monday, 77-50.
Cal improved to 2-0 on the season and they’ve won 35 of 41 non-conference games under Montgomery in the veteran coaches’ five-plus seasons in Berkeley.
The Bears started fast against the smaller, outmanned Pioneers, establishing a 24-5 lead twelve minutes into the first half. David Kravish ignited the offense early and finished with 15 points. Tyrone Wallace led with 16 points and Richard Solomon grabbed a career-best 16 rebounds.
Cal’s 40-20 advantage on the glass and the Pioneers 20 percent shooting in the first half jump off the stat sheet, but both appeared to be a byproduct of the Bears’ coaches’ familiarity with Denver’s sneaky backdoor cuts after playing the Pioneers in each of the last two seasons.
“The main thing you have to do against Denver is maintain your concentration,” Montgomery warned. “They kind of lull you to sleep.”
The Bears beat Denver by 21 at Haas in 20011. Last year’s game was competitive for a half in Denver then the Bears pulled away in the second half behind the Crabbe-Cobbs duo. Because of the experience in Denver, Montgomery knew his defense had to disrupt Chris Udofia and Brett Olson, the Pioneers’ leading scorers. And his Bears adhered, holding the duo to 16 combined after they got 33 in 2012.
“We didn’t get off to a good start, our shooting, obviously was non-existent, I mean for all intents and purposes. I mean in general obviously it was a very tough assignment right out of the gate, against a veteran older team,” Denver coach Joe Scott said, touching on the fact that Cal had a game under their belt while the Pioneers were playing their opener.
The Bears shot 59 percent in the opening half, led by 17 at the break, and were actually outshot (50 percent to 44 percent) in the second half, but still outscored Denver by 10. But Scott’s group was more than obliging in their lack of desire to shoot inside the arc—more than half their shot attempts came from three—rebound at either end, or take care of the ball (committing 14 turnovers).
Denver’s lack of aggression or firepower kept Solomon and Kravish on the floor for ample minutes without worry of foul trouble and the pair came up big most often on put backs and feeds from Justin Cobbs who had six assists. After just two games, it’s apparent that the two starters will be the only real size in Cal’s nine-deep rotation making it imperative that the two not only stay on the floor, but stay on the floor together.
“When we get going we can be pretty good,” Solomon said. “We’re long athletic, we can jump, we like to rebound, and we like to get the ball too.”
The Bears opening stretch includes Oakland (of suburban Michigan) on Friday and Southern Utah on Monday. Of the opening quartet, the SUU Jaguars currently rank as the juggernaut of the group, ranking 212 in the current 351-team labyrinth of Division I. So the Bears won’t garner any much-needed NCAA style points early, but they do seem to be gaining an identity as a typically-unselfish offensive team with some real potential along with depth on the wings.
Accordingly, all eyes are on 6’6” Jabari Byrd, Cal’s highest-ranking recruit. The Richmond native seems eager to please, but hasn’t really put it together in either of the first two games.
“He’s going to be really good,” Montgomery said of Bird. “He was probably a little bit nervous. He wants to be good. You just have to keep working. He’ll be fine when he gets his feet under him and more comfortable with the offense and more comfortable with where his shots are going to come from.”
EARLY OBSERVATIONS: All of the Pac-12 teams have a game or two under their belts and clear vision doesn’t require a prescription. Arizona is really good, maybe even a Final Four capable team with the addition of San Jose’s Aaron Gordon and others, likely well ahead of Oregon and UCLA. Cal is either the best of the next group of four–depending on whether you trust AP, USA Today or the conference media pre-season poll—or not in that group at all. Cal’s lack of size and overall youth suggest they’ll need the smoothest of rides. But if that happens, it’s possible that one or more of Arizona State, Colorado, Stanford or Washington could falter pushing the Bears into NCAA consideration in what appears to be a robust three-to-five bid league.
Stanford—picked by most to finish ahead of Cal despite the differences in recent pedigree–looked to be a prime candidate to disappoint on Monday when they fell at Maples Pavilion to BYU in a wild shootout 112-103. The West Coast conference contender shot 53 percent against the Cardinal and incredibly missed 15 free throws while scoring 112 points. Stanford looked ragged tactically and lacking defensively allowing the starting BYU backcourt to combine for 57 points.