Golden Nuggets: "That Place Better Be Filled Up"

Monte Poole tries to explain why Cal fans are relatively apathetic about being on the verge of basketball's first conference title in years.

Perhaps some of the low interest is backlash from this utterly unimpressive season within the Pac-10. The conference almost certainly won't receive more than two bids for the NCAA Tournament and conceivably could be limited to one.

Then there is the lack of zing from the Bears, who entered the season as a Top 25 team but haven't been able to sustain any momentum. They have built their 18-9 record (10-5 in the Pac-10) without a win streak of more than three games.

Cal's confidence wavers from game to game, week to week. The Bears' inability to shake their nagging self-doubt was apparent again Thursday in an 80-64 loss at Oregon State, a 12-14 squad that will have a hard time reaching the NIT.

Although point guard Jerome Randle is one of the most exciting players in the country, the Bears — smallish, experienced and relying mostly on jump shots — still don't have an identity. Nor do they have the kind of homegrown, high-visibility star of yesteryear, such as Leon Powe or Jason Kidd, each of whom built a local following during his high school career.

Put simply, Cal basketball has not gained enough traction to become a must-see event for the local sports fan.

Yet the Bears are, as Montgomery points out, "still in first place." Montgomery is doing precisely what he was hired to do, as he did at Stanford where his teams consistently won 20 games and made the NCAA Tournament. In his second season at Cal, he has the Bears winning two of every three games and on course for their second consecutive trip to the tournament.

When athletic director Sandy Barbour introduced Montgomery in April 2008, she talked about winning with a stable, clean program and playing in the NCAAs. She didn't refer to charisma, or say anything about Montgomery exciting prospective recruits by bringing an irresistible style of hoops to Berkeley. She knew his Stanford teams were not aesthetically pleasing.

She also knew they won. Year after year, Montgomery's Stanford teams were fundamentally sound, low on frills, contending for Pac-10 titles and spanking the Bears.

So now that Montgomery's Cal team is assured of a winning conference record for the second straight year — predecessor Ben Braun managed one winning record over his final five seasons — his biggest challenge may be stirring up the fan base.

"That place better be filled up," Montgomery said over the airwaves, referring to Haas this week.

After the jump football season tickets go on sale, baseball opens the season with three dominating wins, Cal rugby makes it easy to follow their important match against UBC on Weds, and more.

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