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Golden Nuggets: Mike Montgomery Leads the Youthful Bears to an Improbable Fourth-Place Finish in the Pac-10

With a win over Stanford, Cal secured a fourth-place finish in the conference--far off from the predicted seventh place finish.  A winning record in the Pac-10 this year is not something most Cal fans were expecting three months ago.

"I think winning 10 games is fabulous," Montgomery said. "We expected to have four players we don't have. I don't know if we would have ever played this lineup with the guys we thought we would have had. And that might be a good thing, since this group has such good chemistry."

Coming off a season in which the Golden Bears rode four seniors to 24 wins and into the NCAAs, in which they knocked off Louisville before losing to eventual national champion Duke, this Cal team was built to struggle mightily while testing the patience of a coach.

That's because along with the youth and the antacids that come with it, there was a decided lack of height and a notable paucity of depth. Max Zhang, the 7-foot-3 center who contributed last season, returned to China in November. Forward Omondi Amoke was dismissed from the program last spring, and guard D.J. Seeley transferred.

"We have been through a lot," Kamp said. "I credit my teammates and the coaches for staying focused and just trying to do as well as we can, especially with the adversity we have been playing through."

But everything about this team comes back to Montgomery, who may be having his best year since arriving in the Bay Area to coach Stanford a quarter-century ago. He has had much more experienced teams at both schools, with vastly more talent and size.

Yet this is a team the coach has to like, a team Old Blues have to love. These Bears are a long shot for the NCAAs, but four months ago they were a no-shot.

After the jump the Bears set their sights on the Pac-10 tournament, Shaq Thompson pledges to join the Bears, and Rugby opens Premiere Division play with an impressive victory.