Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
A hot start and a hot finish earned Cal a pre-season tournament championship that could end up proving valuable when the real tournament comes calling in March.
It was the battle of Northern California basketball teams that nobody expected! But in the end, Cal did to Pacific what you would expect a team of Cal's quality to do to a solid-but-still-improving UOP squad.
And I'm sure we'll all have our own personal quibbles with various stretches of the 2nd half that saw the Tigers narrow a 14 point halftime lead all the way down to 5 points. There were certainly occasional issues for Monty to worry about - missed lay-ins, fumbled entry passes, lapses on the defensive glass, sloppy turnovers all conspired to distract from everything else that Cal did well.
Luckily, the Bears fixed all of those issues with a 19-4 run in the last 6:42 of the game. they made 8-9 shots, didn't turn the ball over (until Cobbs threw the ball out of bounds with 3 seconds left) and allowed only one final UOP field goal. It's still early in the season and the team hasn't truly been tested by a sure-fire tournament team yet, but they've certainly shown a nice propensity towards playing their best on both ends at the end of a game.
And focusing on what Cal didn't do would mean losing sight of what did go right. The defense to start the game was excellent, and although defensive execution didn't stay at that level for the entire game, there weren't many stretches when UOP got multiple good looks. The Bears started out just as hot on the offensive end, particularly Allen Crabbe. Before you could blink the Bears were up 27-10. And although UOP fought back like you knew they would, it was a huge hole to try to climb back out of.
-Ho-hum, 44 points from 26 shots by Cobbs and Crabbe. It's hard to find new, nice things to say about the duo, especially against teams that they're supposed to do stuff like this against. It is worth noting that again both dominated offensively without the 3 ball falling.
-Richard Solomon has another good outing.I want to avoid making too much of it because UOP is a smaller team, but Solomon did exactly what you'd want him to do. He was a viable threat on offense, he (alongside Kravish) controlled the defensive glass, and he punished the Tigers whenever he got the ball in good position down low. There are still some kinks to work on - he could go up stronger, for example - but he's drawing fouls and finishing the job from the line, which is miles better than getting stripped or losing the ball out of bounds, which is happening less.
-Brandon Smith looking more and more like sophomore year Smitty. We all know that Smith doesn't need to do a ton to be a valuable guy in the rotation. Facilitate the offense, play solid D, don't turn the ball over on offense, and hit jump shots when the defense doesn't respect you. As best I could tell, all check marks today and all check marks so far this year. Cal needs his contributions either way, but if Kreklow's injury is a long-term thing, it becomes even more critical.
-A great weekend for Cal's computer numbers. Cal went 3-0. That's obviously good. But Drake, Georgia Tech and UOP combined to go 5-1 when they weren't playing Cal. Prior to playing the Tigers Cal's RPI was 25, and it will probably go higher with Sunday's win. And this is before the real meat of the schedule pumps up the numbers. With the Pac-12 looking stronger, Cal will have only themselves to blame if they're not busy in March.
-An unproven, undefeated pre-season tournament champ? Yes, probably. Most of these pre-season tournaments feature multiple big hitters. But the field in Anaheim featured only one major conference team and the mid-majors with decent reputations suffered upsets. The simple reality is that Cal has yet to face a team that is expected to make the NCAA tournament.
That all changes very quickly. Wisconsin, UNLV and Creighton are all heavy hitters. We still don't really know how much this team is capable of. Remember how excited we all were about last year before the Missouri game? Sometimes measuring up against the best can be humbling, sometimes legitimizing. Let's hope for the latter.