Under ideal circumstances, it would have taken an incredible team-performance for Cal to go on the road to upset the #21 Runnin' Rebels. UNLV is exactly the type of match-up that the Bears have struggled with this year; a deep, experienced team with several multi-dimensional athletes who excel in an uptempo game.
Having Richard Solomon out with a stress fracture and dealing with four starters slowed by the flu would certainly qualify as less than ideal.
In an effort to match up with the Rebels' quickness, Monty opted to start a four-guard lineup putting Cobbs, Smith, Jorge, and Crabbe with Kamp in the middle.
For a brief moment, it looked like the Bears were going to make a game of it as they managed a 5-2 lead thanks to a Kamp hook and a Smith 3. But it was quickly apparent that Cal had trouble matching up with the taller and more athletic Rebels.
The two teams exchanged blows back and forth for several minutes. Cal tried to work it inside to Kamp and Kravish while UNLV relied on dribble penetration. It was still anyone's game with 13 to play. But then, the Rebels' depth and the tempo of the game started to wear down the Bears. While UNLV's second unit came in and continued the onslaught, Cal started to struggle moving the ball on offense. Within the span of two minutes, an even game became a 7-pt UNLV advantage.
With Crabbe unable to hit from the outside, the Rebels were able to collapse inside and play the passing lanes. Although Kamp battled gamely in the paint, he had trouble finishing over the taller UNLV post players. And when Kravish went out with two early fouls, Cal's depth issues forced Monty to bring Bak off the bench.
A missed rotation by Bak was followed by a blown layup, and this four point swing fueled a 13-2 run that gave the Rebels a 38-22 lead with minutes to play.
The Bears tried to counter-punch, but they kept turning it over, missing layups, and left critical points at the free throw line. UNLV poured it on, and built the lead up to 20 by halftime, 46-26.
There aren't a whole lot of adjustments to make when your team shoots 36% to the other team's 60%. And the second half was more of the same. With Jorge and Crabbe continuing to struggle, Cal wasn't able to muster the firepower to chip away at UNVL's advantage. The lead hovered around 20 for several minutes, and ultimately grew to as much as 25. Even when the Bears were able to get stops, they had trouble giving up offensive boards.
But you know that a team lead by Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp is never going to give up. Despite running on fumes, Cal mounted a furious rally and put-together an 13-0 run to cut the lead to 13 with minutes to play. Unfortunately, the final outcome was never really in doubt, and the buzzer finally sounded on an 85-68 loss.
Justin Cobbs was one of the few glimmers of hope for the Bears. He played with poise and confidence en route to a team-high 20 points. Kamp was over-matched in the post as Cal's lone big, but fought his way to a near double-double with 12 and 9 boards.
In an interesting decision, Coach Montgomery decided to burn Christian Behrens' blueshirt year and inserted him into the game with 12+ minutes to play in the second half.
This either means that:
1) Monty thinks that Behrens has developed enough to help the team immediately.
2) Richard Solomon's stress fracture might be have a worse prognosis than was previously feared.
3) Monty has resigned himself that Bak and Thurman simply aren't going to provide the bench production needed to be competition in conference play.
4) Some combination of the above.
It would have been a tough game even at full-strength. There's not much to do now but get healthy and get ready for the conference opener.
Coach John Montgomery's tweet summed up the team's attitude nicely,
"Regardless of our 4 starters battling the flu this week & missing Solomon we've got to go get better & mentally tougher on the road #noexcuses"
Next up, the dysfunctional UCLA Bruins are a'comin' to town. Rumor has it that they've been naughty. Get your coal ready.