Normally, this would have been one of those afterthought games where you don't expect to learn anything significant about your team because of the quality of the opposition.
It's like if one of the CGB writers tried to ask out Emmy Rossum - the only outcome in question is whether the inevitable rebuff would involve mace, tasers, a restraining order, or all of the above.
But, the Cal team has been so consistently inconsistent this year, particularly on offense, that this road bump of a game took on a whole new significance. For sanity's sake, I think players, coaches, and fans alike wanted to see some semblance of offensive flow. Let's take a closer look after the jump.
It was a really smart move to rest Markhuri Sanders-Frison. I was a bit surprised to see Bak Bak get the start instead of Solomon. However, Monty has previously shown a Bak Bak/MSF rotation while using Richard Solomon to spell Harper Kamp. It also could have been dictated by match-ups considering that Hartford likes to shoot a ton of threes while packing things in with a 1-3-1 zone; Bak Bak has a little more of a perimeter game.
I liked moving Jorge Gutierrez off the ball. It was an interesting choice to start Brandon Smith at point. Perhaps this was a move intended to boost Smith's confidence...and we all know Gary Franklin won't be shy. Or as norcalnick pointed out, it could be because Franklin's offensive efficiency is 2nd worst in the Pac-10 despite using the 2nd most possessions on the team. (HT Nick)
Smith repaid Monty's faith with some really solid play. Besides scoring with a variety of jumpers, he did a good job initiating the offense and finding guys for layups.
Although we started off the game with some crisp ball movement, I was initially concerned at either our inability or lack of patience in trying to work it inside. I suppose it doesn't matter when our outside shots are falling. But, we're been too streaky this year to become overly reliant on a perimeter-based attack.
Even so, it was really nice seeing Allen Crabbe moving without the ball and looking to hit the open shot. Yeah, the Randle-esque 3 was a heat check, but I was okay with it - we really need him to start asserting himself.
Bak Bak didn't do a lot on offense, but he was very active on the defensive glass. Although he doesn't have the bulk and strength of MSF, he showed a nice mix of length, and timing. Both he and Solomon had some balls ripped away by Hartford's senior bigs, however. Beefcake, guys. Beefcake!!!
Solomon had a huge impact on both ends. Although he doesn't have a diverse offensive game, he's showing a nice improvement in knowing how to use his agility to cut and get free for layups.
Kamp was quietly opportunistic on offense and did his normal solid job on the glass. His unsung contribution was helping to move the ball on offense. By making quick decisions, he helped keep the defense off-guard which opened up opportunities for the other guys.
Bringing in Franklin off the bench as the back-up point seemed to settle him down. Although he had one careless turnover, he did a nice job running the break and had a sweet no-look dish to Solomon for a dish. I would have threatened to lock him in a room with endless Justin Bieber videos, but I guess that's why Monty is the Hall of Fame coach.
The Good: Although we were initially slowed by their 1-3-1 zone, the guys did a pretty nice job of being patient and moving the ball. Even though we shot the ball fairly well from the outside, we also found ways to find cutters. Considering how we've struggled to solve this type of zone the past few years, it was somewhat reassuring...although the quality of competition does need to be taken into account. We also did a better job than earlier in the year with closing out on shooters and making it tough for Hartford to execute their 3-heavy offense.
The Bad: We could have done a better job taking care of the ball - there were still too many turnovers and we gave up some easy transition baskets. Without MSF, the young bigs gave up more offensive boards and layups than we usually allow.
The Ugly: I hate Stanfurd. Just thought I'd point that out.
I really liked Monty's decision to give Solomon the start in the 2nd half. Maybe he doesn't have the same skill set as Bak Bak, but he brings a unique combination of height and athleticism that no one else on the team has. You can see the young fella gaining confidence with each game; he's figuring out how to play to his strengths. Instead of having to think about where to go, he's playing faster because he knows where he's supposed to be. Granted, the degree of difficulty goes up significantly as we enter Pac-10 play. But, if he develops ahead of schedule, it'll be a really nice complement to MSF and Kamp.
Between Solomon's dominance inside, and the Crabbe Feed(TM) outside onslaught, the Bears quickly blew this one wide open and turned it into an extended scrimmage. Hartford tried everything from the Hot Potato Offense (1-poh-tay-to, 2-puh-tah-to - SHOOT!) to wholesale line changes without much effect. Maybe they should have tried line dancing.
As the game devolved a bit into sloppiness, it was hard to take it too seriously. Even when we didn't out-play them, we were able to out-athlete them. Although the confidence boost is nice, I hope the guys realize that this is the last game all year where we'll be able to get away with bad habits or careless play.
One thing I liked about the 2nd half is that our bigs did a nice job handling Hartford's double teams. A lot of Pac-10 teams like to routinely double the post and we'll need to know how to find the open guy.
With Smith's emergence, there weren't a lot of minutes left to give Nigel Carter more than a cameo. Also making brief appearances were Emerson Murray, transfer forward Jeff Powers, and Robert "The Human Victory Cigar" Thurman. Interestingly, Franklin didn't get a lot of minutes in the 2nd half even during garbage time. Although he played under control during his limited opportunities, it seemed like Monty wanted to develop Smith. It's a tough balancing act - Franklin clearly offers more upside potential, but Smith may be the safer choice for the immediate future. (*Update - Per BearTalk, Franklin was limited with the flu last night.)
The Good: We beat a team that we were supposed to beat in a convincing fashion. Crabbe, Solomon, and Smith all had break-out games. We showed better ball movement, and didn't give up too many open shots. MSF got some much needed rest.
The Bad: Turnovers. When we look to Jorge to lead the way, 7 TO's aren't exactly the droids we're looking for. As far as the level of competition goes, this was like stealing dentures from an evicted granny and using them to eat candy that you took from a toddler. "Reasonable expectations" is still the battle cry heading into Pac-10 play.
The Ugly: I hate the Furd band, the Furd students, the Furd alumni, and that god-awful tree.
Let's pause for a moment to acknowledge Mike Montgomery's achievement. 600 wins is pretty darn incredible, especially considering that many of them occurred at a university known more for douchebaggery than anything else. Sure, it's a little unfortunate that this signature win had to come in a near-deserted gym against a nondescript opponent. But perhaps it's appropriate considering that Montgomery started his career in the humble mountains of Montana. Win another 600 for us, Coach. Please?
And most importantly, let's get #601 this weekend. Go Bears! Beat stanfurd!