In the not too distant past, beating the WAC champion would be a relatively impressive win. But that was before the WAC lost every team but two, then took on a bunch of teams you possibly have never heard of. Last year, Utah Valley was in the Great West. Seven years ago, they weren't even in Division 1. That's the case for most WAC teams these days.
So this game has to be taken with a grain of salt. Beating Utah Valley is roughly the equivalent to beating Oakland or Washington State without DaVonte Lacy. It's good to win, and it's good to keep the season going, but that's about it.
That said, boy was it fun to play a team with an obvious athletic deficit. Monty pretty much always crushes those teams. Even without their most athletically imposing player in Richard Solomon the Bears comfortably controlled the game. More athletic teams can disrupt Monty's sets and frustrate the Bears. Utah Valley couldn't do that, and the Bears looked more fluid than they had in months. The result was 20 assists on 32 field goals and solid looks all evening. It was a breath of fresh air, even if it's an isolated event with no bearing on the past or the future.
The game was back and forth for most of the first half before Cal made a late run before the break. Utah Valley found some success on back door cuts and they hit a few threes, and that allowed them to hang around. But Cal got used to what they were running and the game gradually got more and more out of hand.
Cal was led primarily by David Kravish, who stepped up in Solomon's absence to make an impact on both ends. Kravish took advantage of Utah Valley's lack of size by scoring efficiently around the basket and controlling the paint on defense to the tune of 5 blocks and 10 defensive rebounds. Utah Valley didn't have anybody to bother his shot, and he went 7-9 from the field as a consequence.
Much of the focus during the NIT will be on Cal's freshmen, and the play of Jabari Bird, Jordan Mathews and Sam Singer was generally impressive. Mathews shot the ball well and pulled down 7 rebounds. If he could develop the ability to rebound well from the wing it would really help Cal replace Richard Solomon and play four out next year. Jabari Bird (who took Solomon's spot in the starting lineup) got to the basket a few times, came up with an emphatic block, hit some tough shots, and generally looked comfortable in the offense. You could say the same for Sam Singer. All in all, an encouraging performance.
And finally, how about Jeff Powers with 10 points and 3 assists? If there's one single thing I'll remember about this season 10 years from now, it would be the upset of Arizona. Except I didn't get to watch the game live. So the one single thing I will remember might just be a few really, really fun Jeff Powers games. I kinda wish he had gotten more run this year.
That's about as much insight as I can glean from this game, in part because Utah Valley isn't a great team, and in part because I watched on a choppy, difficult to follow ESPN3 stream. I would expect the next game (Monday night) to be televised, but who knows? With a tougher opponent in Arkansas, the Bears would really like to get Richard Solomon back, but is it realistic to expect a concussion to heal in five days? Probably not, but here's wishing that Senior Solo will get to play in what is likely to be the last game at Haas this season.