It was all good a month ago for California. When November ended, they were 6-0 and were looking every bit a contender in the Pac-12. Since December 1 came and went, the Bears are 0-2 and have tasted both ends of tough losses. Wisconsin blew them out on the road on Dec. 2 and then Sunday, they lost to No. 20 UNLV at home on a last-second tip-in.
So what’s going on? Head coach Mike Montgomery is 3-11 against Top 25 teams since coming to Berkeley four seasons ago so is Cal just struggling against another good teams? Or is it a sign of problems down the road.
The Bears hurting themselves against UNLV by missing 13 free throws. That’s a recipe for disaster and it’s unacceptable for a team that’s fifth among Pac-12 teams. Allen Crabbe, the conference’s leading scorer, missed three on his own despite his team-high 18 points.
They also got out-rebounded by UNLV 36-26 and saw the Rebels grab more offensive rebounds (13 to the Bears’ four). National Player of the Year candidate Anthony Bennett (13 rebounds) nearly out-rebounded Cal’s frontcourt duo Doug Kravish and Richard Solomon (15 combined).
Cal may have the best scoring backcourt in the conference in Crabbe and Justin Cobbs but their lack of quality rebounding is a problem. Kravish averages 7.9 a game while Solomon averages 6.4 per game. For comparison, UCLA‘s Kyle Anderson – a natural point guard playing out of position – has similar averages to Kravish.
It’s something to watch when the Bears head into conference play. But for now, Cal gets another chance against a nationally ranked team on Saturday as they host No. 16 Creighton, who defeated Wisconsin by 10 points earlier this season.
My bet is that they learn from losing against UNLV and try to play a much stronger 40 minutes. Between this game and Arizona facing Florida Saturday, the Pac-12 needs to take advantage of one of these last chances to make a good national impression.
For more thoughts on the Pac-12, college hoops or anything sports-related, follow me on Twitter: @Evan_B