After four games, all of which were played at home, the California Golden Bears will leave the comfort of Haas Pavilion and the cold autumn air in Berkeley for pineapples, beaches, and of course, basketball. On Monday, the Bears will play the Arkansas Razorbacks at 12pm pst in Maui, Hawaii for the EA Sports Maui invitational. Despite the allures and distractions that a first road trip brings, especially one in Maui, the Bears will need to treat the tournament with the utmost seriousness because now the team will truly be challenged on the floor.
Regardless of winning or losing against the Razorbacks, the Bears will play three games in a row against considerably stronger competition than what they’ve already faced. The Bears have three emphatic victories under the belt against Coppin State, Denver, and Southern Utah, with only the narrow four point win against Oakland (technically the tournament’s opener) being a noticeable blemish to an undefeated start. Regardless of the wins, the Bears have plenty of kinks to work out come Monday.
Justin Cobbs, the Bears senior point guard is a machine when distributing the ball, but unfortunately in recent outings, has given the ball to the other team. In the past two games, Cobbs has turned the ball over seven times and takes a while before assimilating into the game. However has has shown his leadership qualities in clutch situations down the stretch, like in the win against Oakland where he rallied and knocked down his free throws in the game’s final moments. He also had eight assists after 20 minutes of play against Southern Utah. Cobbs has enough experience to rectify his troubles and to command the backcourt against Razorback guard, Michael Qualls. But that won’t be easy for Cobbs and the Golden Bears.
Qualls, a sophomore, has been red hot so far and his three straight games of at least 17 points have inspired the SEC team to a 3-0 start to the season. He is also not afraid to be multi-dimensional, having six rebounds, four assists and three blocks in his most recent performance against SMU. It is that kind of intensity Qualls brings to his game, that Cal’s head coach Mike Montgomery is looking to elevate in his players. After their previous outings, Montgomery has felt that the mentality of his men requires improvement. Against Southern Utah, Montgomery pulled four of his five starters out early in the second half because their desire to play hard was simply not there. The Bears began that second half up by 19 but did very little to extend that lead shortly after the restart.
“He’s always correct,” reflected a candid David Kravish when discussing Montgomery’s wholesale substitution.
The problem with the Bears in their previous games, as was the case early last season, is that the team gets too comfortable against opposition they know they can defeat. A certain expectation to win sets in before the job is actually done and against a high tempo Razorback squad, Cal will need to be at it’s absolute sharpest.
Arkansas is coming off a victory that saw 11 threes pointers splash the net from 6 different players. Granted, repeating that against the Bears’ big guards such as Jabari Bird and Tyrone Wallace would be head scratching, but this team is averaging 88.0 points per game; so don’t be surprised if they rack up buckets. And this flurry of points can even from their bench.
Mike Anderson, coach of the Razorbacks, has been utilizing his roster to a great degree this season, with 11 players tallying double digit minutes thus far. As as result of these varied rotations, the Arkansas bench has amassed 47 percent (41 ppg) of the team’s points and a impressive scoring margin of +15.3 in bench points. This is a cause for concern considering Cal’s depth.
Ricky Kreklow, the Bears junior guard averages the most minutes in his supportive role with 20.8 can be the guy who does all the little, unnoticed things to ensure victory; the screens, the box-outs, and rebounds. His veteran leadership will be key, however, much of Cal’s other role players still have much to prove. Freshman Kameron Rooks is the tallest player on the team at 7 feet but also seems to be the most impatient with shot selection. Another Freshman, Sam Singer, is a scrappy choice at the 1, but has had his moments of indecisiveness. Everyone has a role to play on this Bears team and finding where exactly these guys fit in that puzzle is a challenge that remains to be seen. Now it may reveal itself this coming week, but against the kind of opposition Cal will face, it is safe to say that at least two starters, maybe even three will play at least 30 minutes of basketball.
One of those players who will see that kind of time is Richard Solomon. The senior is the team’s leader in the front court and a beast on the boards and is sixth in the nation in rebounding at 12.5 rpg. Nevertheless, if he is used to steward a smaller, bench filled rotation, the new guys will need to step up and crash the glass as well.
Cal, as does Arkansas, enjoys running full steam at a team and playing exciting, transition basketball. Monday afternoon should provide an early Thanksgiving feast of explosive basketball and a formidable test for the 2013 Golden Bears.
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