Before the tournament started, all you would here is how dependent Cal was on two players to score. Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs. Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe. If they're not combining for 40 points, the Bears aren't winning. And that would be especially true against UNLV, a team sporting talented post players like Anthony Bennett and Mike Moser.
But what if Cal actually won the game inside? What if Cal's forwards outscored the guards? What if a future lottery pick was absolutely flustered by an active zone defense? What if the Bears came up with 10 dunks and outscore UNLV in the paint, 34 to 18?
Because all of those things happened. Cal beat a team with two NBA draftable forwards by dominating them in the post on both ends. I didn't think it was possible.
A major reason the Bears were able to do so was the zone that Monty threw at UNLV for essentially the entire game. It allowed Cal to effectively double team Bennett whenever he actually got the ball, and the MWC freshman of the year finished with just four field goals after torching Cal with nine in December. But it's not like Cal packed the paint and left Rebel shooters open on the perimeter all game. UNLV attempted 20 threes, which is more or less in line with their season average.
I'm generally on record as not being a fan when Cal goes zone, but the zone they showed against UNLV was easiliy the best I've seen under Monty. The rotations were crisp, the double teams came at the right time, and the Rebels just never looked very comfortable trying to break it down. that all culminated with an 11 minute stretch in the 2nd half when UNLV didn't make a single field goal, allowing Cal to turn a tie into a 9 point lead.
I thought David Kravish played the best defensive game of his career. Three blocks, 2 steals, countless shots altered, and that still doesn't do his effort justice. The most impressive aspect was how few touches Anthony Bennett got. Bennett only attempted four shots in the first half, and two of those shots were jumpers. That's phenomenal, and although Richard Solomon and Robert Thurman deserve credit, my addled mind recalls seeing Kravish on him more frequently.
Offensively, I thought it was a remarkably cohesive performance. 18 assists on 26 made baskets is a good indication of how well the Bears were passing, but perhaps more importantly, how well the Bears were moving without the ball. Honestly, Cal didn't have an amazing shooting game. Justin Cobbs generally was a little off on his jumpers and Tyrone Wallace and Ricky Kreklow combined to shoot 1-9. Even then, Cal won because they created good shots on nearly every possession.
Oh yeah, and Allen Crabbe is really good. Sometimes his awesomeness goes unmentioned because we just accept it as assumed. But a 19-9-4-2 line should be savored. Allen scored efficiently, cleaned up the glass, moved without the ball, passed out of tough defenses, and otherwise controlled things on offense as much as an off-guard can. I really hope we get to watch him in blue and gold for another year.
Cal also won despite some iffy reffing. Yeah, it's pretty weak to complain about the refs after a win. But seriously, prior to the end-of-game intentional foul-fest, UNLV had attempted 21 free throws to Cal's 4. It's not that I think Cal wasn't getting enough calls - it's that UNLV was sent to the line on some pretty weak foul calls. Might we now live in a world where Pac-12 refs are tighter with the whistle than NCAA tournament refs? In any case, Bennett finally got going because he got sent to the line, including a really soft call against Allen Crabbe on a three. Whatever, Cal won despite it all.
Let us never speak of the final 40 seconds of that game again.
If you happened to watch portions of the Syracuse/Montana
game mismatch you saw what appears to be a rather intimidating next challenge. But the Bears will clearly have a great home court advantage in Bear Territory South. If they play how they did against UNLV - with strong, composed defense and calm, team-oriented offense, then an upset just might be in the cards.
How much fun are March wins? That was awesome, let's do it again.