Against the first major conference opponent of the very young season, California Golden Bears (5-0) was able to triumph over the Arkansas Razorbacks (3-1) of the SEC by a score of 85-77 in the Maui Invitational quarterfinals.
Leading the way for the Bears are the Cal bigs in senior forward Richard Solomon with 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks and junior forward David Kravish with a team high 19 points, game highs of 15 rebounds and 4 blocks. 5 Golden Bears finished in double figures with senior guard Justin Cobbs and freshman wing Jabari Bird both with 15 and 6th men Ricky Kreklow with 17 (behind some clutch free throw shooting late in the game, 8 for 10 from the charity stripe).
Arkansas unleashed their pressure on the Bears and it sort of worked at time. Bears committed 18 turnovers under duress. In the first half, the Bears were able to keep a slim lead on the Razorbacks thanks to the sharp shooting of Jabari Bird, who made 3 of 4 from downtown. Bears made 5 of 10 3-point attempts in the first half overall. Also helping the cause for the Bears was the inability of Arkansas to make shots early in the game. A combination of strong Bears defense (switching between zone and man-to-man at times) and initial cold shooting held the Razorbacks to only making 38% of their shots. In fact, the Razorbacks' starters only scored 13 total points for the game.
Richard Solomon picked up 2 quick fouls in the first half and was a non-factor. Early in the second half, the turning point of the game turned out to be when Solomon picked up his 3rd foul early in the half. Visibly frustrated, Solomon was allowed to stay in the game by Cal head coach Mike Montgomery. The senior forward/center responded by still playing aggressively but smartly on both sides of the court, making huge blocks and momentum changing slam dunks. Solomon could not be stopped until being poked in the eye in some physical play that was not called by the referees. With his eye visibly swollen, Solomon was not quite the same afterward. Picking up his slack was fellow big David Kravish, however. Kravish, somewhat quietly, ended up leading the Bears in scoring while making a few key baskets against the late Arkansas surge. The great plays of the Cal bigs allow the Bears to hold a 50 to 31 edge on the board.
A constant for the Bears on the floor was Justin Cobbs, who dished out 7 assists for the game. Although Cobbs did not make any 3's, he was instrumental in how the Bears were able to handle the Arkansas pressure.
Bears were able to force Arkansas into trying to shoot their way back in the game. Cal only held a slim lead, 34-32, in the first half thanks to the strong performance by the Arkansas bench. The deep rotation of the Razorbacks was able to pick up the slack of their ineffective starters. Anthlon Bell and Michael Qualls both shot 6 of 13, with 4 3's made, to score 16 and 21 points each, respectively. It was not until Richard Solomon started to assert himself in the game, right after a video of his Karate prowess was shown to the viewer, did the Bears start to pull away.
After Solomon had to leave due to injury, the Bears went through a second stretch of sloppy plays. Turnovers and poor free throw shooting, only 21 for 33 for 63.6% for the game, allowed the Razorbacks to hang around. Nevertheless, the Bears were able to hold on for the win.
For the game, Monty played 9 players, including three freshmen in the reserve role. Freshman forward Roger Moute a Bidias had some important minutes in the first half and grabbed 2 offensive boards. Guard Sam Singer was used to assist Cobbs to break the Arkansas pressure at times. Guard Jordan Matthews had a memorable steal on what appeared to be an easy Arkansas breakaway basket.
Up next for the Bears is likely a rematch with the Syracuse Orange (who ended Cal's season last year). Bears will take on the winner of the Syracuse/Minnesota game in the Maui Invitational semifinal at 4 PM PT tomorrow.
UPDATE: Syracuse will indeed be Cal's next foe after the Orange held on to beat Minnesota by a score of 75-67.