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NIT tournament 2014: Cal basketball beats Arkansas through team effort, SMU next

Everyone contributed to this win.

Justin Cobbs scores his final points at Haas
Justin Cobbs scores his final points at Haas
Bear Insider

Short recap: The Arkansas Razorbacks spent the first 60% of the game missing every basketball shot known to man, and had to spend the rest of the game playing catch up with their insane full-court press.

Don't get me wrong, Cal played exceptionally solid basketball for most of the game, but for over 15 minutes of the game (and I'm probably underestimating), Arkansas was shooting under 15%. This game was Cal's to lose after they rushed out to a 25-6 lead, increased it to 31-8 somewhere in the first half and 51-27 early in the second, and just hung on the rest of the way. I'm half-convinced it was because the coaching staff decided to wear matching Mafia suits.

Cal generally performed well against the Arkansas pressure, breaking it often and attacking fast off of the Razorback misses. Once Cal grabbed a missed shot, they quickly moved into their sets and got a good look for almost anyone on their team.

Jabari Bird, Tyrone Wallace, Ricky Kreklow, David Kravish all shrugged off their month-long slumps with some excellent performances. Justin Cobbs had a pretty quiet night with nine points, six assists and five rebounds, as he got the help he's been looking for all season from his teammates. I'm pretty sure Cobbs would have loved some more quiet performances this year, as it probably would have meant a ticket to that other Dance, but it was nice to see the team come together for an inspired performance.

The biggest stat to me? Cal assisted on 22 of 26 of its baskets. This was a truly unselfish performance by every Bear tonight.

Welcome back Jabari. The slump ended in spectacular fashion for Bird, who displayed that McDonalds All-American form for the first time since I don't know when. He not only scored 19 points but hauled in eight rebounds too. It was an exceptional performance when the Bears most needed it. Equally impressive was Tyrone, who hit his free throws and actually shot over 50% from the field, scoring 16 points and dishing three assists.

It wasn't easy for Kravish to bang all night long against an athletic Arkansas frontline, but he managed a series of impressive blocks, forced two strip steals and grabbed eight boards. Kreklow was a happy distributor as well with four assists and hauling in four boards. Sam Singer still has a ways to go before filling Cobbs's shoes, but he had five very impressive dimes to help bulk up that Cal lead. Jordan Matthews hit a few shots, and Cal generally was solid from the free throw line.

The Arkansas press did wear at Cal as the game wore on--the Bears turned the ball over 16 times--and Cal's lead was eventually cut to single digits with a few minutes left, but Arkansas's offense never got more than an occasional push outside of their defensive pressure and the Bears held on.

Cal now faces an SMU team that will be pretty nightmarish to deal with. They shoot well, defend like hell, and went 2-2 against Sweet 16 teams that have great Final Four odds (swept UConn, lost to Virginia and Lousiville). Then again, they also lost to Arkansas, so who knows what will happen? It'll be tough for the Bears to get the road win, but at least they're fighting their way to the very end of March.

Other tidbits.

  • Kreklow broke his nose during that collision that sent him out of the game late, so he'll either be out or wearing a mask on Wednesday. Cal is running out of bodies along their front line; with Richard Solomon probably doubtful for Dallas, the Bears might have to go ultra-small and just hope they can outshoot SMU if Kreklow can't go.
  • As Bill Walton spent much of the game floating between Saturn and Neptune and probably contemplating his own version of Cosmos, he managed to namedrop BOTH Vincent Sheu and Ken Montgomery. You can also meet Ken's dog Zoe!

  • These namedrops from Bill Walton came right after namedrops of Bill Clinton, Corliss Williamson, Robert Reich, The Greatful Dead, Telegraph Avenue, Kreklow being Wayne Gretzky, some place in Southern Utah called Hogback Ridge, the logistics of mail by mule in Southern Utah, Kevin Johnson, Lance Alworth, David Kravish's girlfriend's name, Roxy Bernstein's daughter Berkeley, Brent Musburger, Brent Musburger announcing redwood trees, his biking friend from the University of Arkansas, his dog, his friend's dog, Top Dog...
  • Kudos to the Arkansas fans, who turned out impressively for an NIT game in Berkeley. And they came in all shapes and forms. All of them were quite good for my health.

  • It's a quick turnaround for Cal, who will play SMU on Wednesday night in Dallas. This setup obviously favors the Mustangs by a bit, and the injuries could also make things difficult. It figures to be another physical matchup; hopefully the Bears are game!
  • Go Bears! 2013-14 hoops isn't quite done yet.