Cal’s win over Cal State Northridge in the Golden Bears’ season opener on Tuesday didn’t make much of an impression, but the Golden Bears’ 89-64 victory over New Mexico on Saturday at Haas Pavilion may have turned some heads.
Quite simply, the Lobos are pretty good. Not as good as last season, when they were a top-10 team and beat Cal along the way, but still pretty good.
New Mexico entered the game 2-0, including a 76-62 home victory over Pac-10 team Arizona State. However, the Lobos no longer have Darington Hobson, the 2009-2010 Mountain West Conference player of the year who turned pro after leading the Lobos to a No. 8 ranking in last season’s final regular-season Associated Press poll. Nonethless, the Lobos were picked by the media to finish third in the Mountain West Conference this season. Cal was picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10.
Beating New Mexico the way Cal did — with a strong 17-1 surge midway through the second half to break open a tight game — suggests the young Bears can stay with some decent teams — at home, anyway.
Jorge Gutierrez showed he’s perfectly capable of handling the point-guard job while still scoring some points and maintaining his defensive intensity. He collected career-high 20 points, six rebounds and three assists, and he generally controlled things on the floor.
Harper Kamp, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, had a career-high 25 points, 18 of which came in the second half, and freshman Gary Fanklin had 16 points, including including two key three-pointers, and four assists.
Again Cal struggled a bit from the foul line early on, but the Bears ended up hitting 18 of 30 free throws after missing seven of their first nine.
But the Bears did enough offensively elsewhere. Cal led almost the entire way, although the margin was just two points with 15:32 left. Cal went on a run at that point, and when Franklin hit three-pointers on consecutive possessions, the Bears held an 11-point lead (56-45) with 13 minutes left. (However, Franklin did not please coach Mike Montgomery when he tried to dunk on a breakaway late in the game and ended up missing badly on the layup attempt. Montgomery is not a big fan of flashy play when a simple play will work just fine. Montgomery immediately took Franklin out of the game and had a talk with Franklin when he came out. The discussion ended with Montgomery patting Franklin on the back, however.)
The Cal lead grew to 13 points after Kamp hit a pair of free throws. By the time the 17-1 run was over, Cal held a 63-45 lead with 11:40 to go.
The Bears showed their inexperience by making a few poor decisions at that point, but quickly gathered themselves and pushed the margin to 25 points with five minutes left.
The game had been close until Cal’s second-half surge.
A little over eight minutes into the game, Gutierrez had eight points, two rebounds and two assists, and Cal had a 20-8 lead. Plus, Gutierrez had a steal that led to to his own breakaway dunk for the first points of the game.
New Mexico eventually tied the game at 36-36 on Jamal Fenton’s three-pointer, but the Bears tok a 38-36 lead into the locker room at halftime, thanks to a Richard Solomon dunk with two seconds left off a feed from Brandon Smith.
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