Arguably the worst loss in the Mike Montgomery era, the Bears suffered what would be considered a "bad loss" (by NCAA selection standard), losing 67-62 to Harvard, on Saturday night. Despite their splendid season last year, Harvard came in to the game with a RPI outside the top 100 (although this victory might allow them to temporarily crack the top 100) and should end the year outside the top 100 given the weak Ivy League competition.
How did we get to this result? Here is the game flow:
Despite trailing for the most game, the Bears had a chance to escape with a victory. Unfortunately, the lack of execution in the closing minutes doomed Cal. Hurting the Bears' chance in the last five minutes, all three of Allen Crabbe, Justin Cobbs, and Richard Solomon went down to the floor (and this was no Tosh Lupoi shenanigan against Oregon type of thing). Crabbe and Cobbs apparently both suffered cramps due to the extra minutes. Richard Solomon apparently got elbowed in the eye and had to leave the game. Instead of calling timeouts to rest those key players and allow them to stay in the game, Bears had a weird one minute+ sequence without Cobbs or any true PG on the floor.
Where was Smitty? Senior point guard, Brandon Smith (concussion) was one of three Golden Bears that missed the game. Redshirt freshman Ricky Kreklow's ankle injury persisted to cause him to be rested for this game (not sure he can practice much with the injury). Finally, backup forward Christian Behrens, who was starting to get a few key minutes, is apparently lost for the season with a knee injury.
Here are some stat comparison:
Cal actually had better FG% than Harvard but was hurt by the inability to make a 3 all game (0 for 6 while Harvard was 10 for 27). The key stats was the extra turnovers (couple with the lack of assists, 4 each for Cobbs and Wallace and only 9 as the team), particularly two costly ones at the closing minutes.
Coming to the game, the Bears' game plan was to attack the very soft Harvard interior (they started 4 guards, with only a 6" 6' Forward in Jonah Travis) early and often. Unfortunately, Richard Solomon and David Kravish wasn't able to exploit this. Robert Thurman, who had shown to be possibly the best post play on the team, again fall victim to lose the ball in the paint to shorter but quicker guards.
The following Monty quote says it all: "Statistically they're one of the worst teams in the paint, but we couldn't take advantage of it. I was hoping that being bigger, I thought if we weren't able to score the ball inside, we'd be able to offensive rebound. We weren't able to do either."
In terms of the extra minutes that Crabbe, 27 points in 40 minutes, Cobbs, 15 points in 33 minutes, David Kravish, 12 points in 34 minutes, and freshman Tyrone Wallace, who was scoreless in 34 minutes, had to play, the Harvard squad also relied quite heavily on their starting lineup. In fact, the Crimson had 4 guys: point guard Siyani Chambers, Wesley Saunders, Laurent Rivard, and Christian Webster, all playing more than 35 minutes.
Despite all these, the Bears had a chance down the stretch. With 4:33 to play, Bears tied the game on two Crabbe free throws. This came after Crabbe stayed down on the floor with cramp after being fouled. Not wanting a substitute to shoot the free throws instead, Crabbe was stretched on the floor by Richard Solomon instead of a Cal training staff. After preventing a basketball from Harvard, the Bears had a chance to take the lead but the possession was halted after the refs stopped play after Cobbs hit the floor. Jeff Powers was forced into the game and the Bears played with only combo guard Tyrone Wallace running the point. I'm not sure why the Bears did not take a timeout here, but this was an awkward situation with Wallace almost throwing the ball away and Crabbe had to settle for a long 3 (which looked good off his hand) attempt.
Harvard took the lead with an uncontested (they had plenty of these, particularly with the Cal bigs not able to be fast enough to close out the Crimson perimeter guys) corner 3 before the Bears had yet another key possession wasted, without Cobbs on the floor. In fact, Cobbs only got in the game after Richard Solomon was with an injury. Despite all these, a Crabbe drive that resulted in two converted free throws and a David Kravish layup gave the Bears an one point lead with 1:50 to play.
Crimson's Wesley Saunder then managed to draw a shooting foul on Kravish with one second on the shot clock to take the lead back. With Harvard being a great free throw shooting team, 74.3% for the season but 13 for 14 for this game, the Bears were in trouble. A great acting job by Chambers forced a key offensive foul call on Cobbs. Two more free throws later, Cobbs was tripped on his drive and threw the ball and the Bears' waning chance to win the game away. Cal basketball end its 2012 on a rather sour note.
What's next: Pac-12 conference play starts next Thursday for the Bears with a trip down to Southern California with a schizophrenic UCLA squad (who just pulled off a home upset over a top 10 MIssouri team) up first, follow by the probably conference cellar dweller but still dangerous USC on Saturday.