It’s inappropriate to minimize what Cal accomplished by beating New Mexico handily 89-64 at Cal on Saturday, because the improvement the Golden Bears showed from their opener four days earlier was noteworthy. And nobody was more pleased with his team’s play than coach Mike Montgomery.
“Through all our practices and everything, this was clearly our best effort across the board or doing what we need to do to be successful,” Montgomery said. “I was really pleased with our defensive effort almost accrss the board. It was pretty encouraging all the way around. If this could sustain itself, this was a pretty good first step.”
Nonetheless, a better gauge of the young Golden Bears’ chances for success this season will come when Cal plays three games in four days in Florida next week. Those games in the Old Spice Classic will be the first games away from home for this freshman-laden team, and young teams typically play a lot better at home than on the road. The Bears play No. 21-ranked Temple (2-0) in Orlando on Thanksgiving Day, then play either Notre Dame or Georgia the next day, and an undetermined foe on Nov. 28.
“It’s 3,000 miles away, but it’s theoretially on a neutral court, and the crowds probably won’t be that big, so that should not be a factor,” Montgomery said. “But it will be a new thing for these guys to figure out a way to get ready away from home.”
The Bears (2-0) obviously were ready against New Mexico.
“I think the freshmen were as hyped as they’ve ever been,” said Harper Kamp, who had a career-high 25 points. “Usually it’s me and the veterans firing them up. Tonight it was the other way around.”
Another common trait of young teams is that they play well against talented teams, but sometimes have trouble maintaining that edge against teams they should beat. Whether that is the case for this Cal team, which starts two freshmen and has a third who plays significant minutes, reamins to be seen. But they new New Mexico was pretty good and played inspired ball.
Although Kamp and Jorge Gutierrez (20) were the best Cal players on the floor, the most encouraging play may have come from freshmen Gary Franklin (16 points) and Richard Solomon and sophomore Brandon Smith.
Smth is Gutierrez’s backup at point guard, and he showed a nice combination of aggressivness and control on Saturday while getting nine points and seven assists against three turnovers.
“I think Brandon took control of the game,” Gutierrez said.
That may be a slight exaggeration, but not much.
“Brandon had a really good game,” Montgomery said.
Solomon was 4-for-4 from the field while scoring eight points and collecting four rebounds in 19 minutes.
Allen Crabbe, the third freshman of note, had only four points in 30 minutes of action, but he had five rebounds and two blocks and played better defensively than he had in the opener.
Alex Rossi, another freshman expected to see playing time this season, has not played in either of the first two games because of an abdominal strain, and Montgomery said Rossi will not play or practice for the next few weeks. Cal hopes Rossi can rehabilitate the injury and return at full strength.
By the way, Montgomery is 33-3 at Haas Pavilion as Cal’s head coach.
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