The game was MUCH closer than the final score would indicate.
In a game that featured bookend runs by the Golden Bears, Cal won the championship of the Sixth Annual DirecTV Classic in Anaheim, 78-58, over a very game Pacific.
Cal started the contest scoring the first seven points, and ended it scoring the final 10. In between, the game was essentially even.
Justin Cobbs was named the most outstanding player of the tournament. Cobbs finished the night with 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists, and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by backcourt mate Allen Crabbe, whose 24 points led all scorers for the evening.
"He (Cobbs) has gotten better," said Bears head coach Mike Montgomery. "There's not a question about that. He's figuring out how to be effective. The mid-range game, he's reluctant with, but in the last couple games he's jumped up over a couple people and made the most of them. Sometimes he's got to recognize how to immediately get the ball to the shooter. Justin's been good."
Despite the seemingly lopsided final score, there have to be issues concerning Montgomery after this performance. For starters, there's the bench, which contributed only four of the 78 points on the evening. Ricky Kreklow was unable to play with a foot injury, and will be examined tomorrow by team doctors; Montgomery has to be holding his breath hoping that Kreklow, a transfer from the University of Missouri, will not have to miss much more time -- Kreklow had a screw inserted in his foot several weeks ago and was brought along gingerly in the early going. He provides a lot of energy on both sides of the game, having already earned the nickname "Jorge Light", a reference to graduated Jorge Gutierrez and the defensive intensity he gave the Bears for four seasons.
Kreklow's absence meant true freshman Ty Wallace had to contribute significant minutes, and he played 21 Sunday night. "I thought he was nervous," said Montgomery. "I've got to give Pacific credit, they're tough. And the stuff they were doing to us, Crabbe and Cobbs, they've been around, but for a freshman, Ty has been really good. I thought he had a really good tournament, we needed him."
Additionally, even though the Bears out-rebounded Pacific 40-31, they were dominated on the offensive boards, 11-6, by the Tigers. Not surprisingly, this gave Pacific a 13-2 edge in second-chance points on the evening.
Cal also turned the ball over 13 times to just eight miscues by Pacific, which gave the Tigers a 13-10 edge in points off turns.
So how did Cal manage such a lopsided win? Put simply, they shot the basketball better. A lot better. Cal hit 27 of 50 shots on the night, shooting 54%, with assists on 19 of the 27 baskets, better than 70%. Pacific started cold and never really got hot, although they did close the game to a five-point margin in the second half. The Tigers hit on 22-of-64 shots, a chilly 34%, missing many put-backs, which is why they only assisted on 11 of the 22 buckets.
After the 7-0 start, Pacific closed the gap to 13-8 at the 13:35 mark. Cal then scored 10 straight en route to a 23-11 run over the next 8:17 that effectively put the game into the category of "one-sided". The 17-point lead would prove to be the Bears' largest until the final minute of play. The run was keyed by seven points each from Crabbe and Brandon Smith, who finished the night with 11, one of four Bears in double figures. Richard Solomon chipped in four of his 14 points during that stretch as well. Solomon hauled in eight rebounds, trailing only David Kravish's 10 for game-high honors.
Pacific entered the contest on the heels of a pair of upsets, having squeaked past a good Xavier squad 70-67 before shocking St. Mary's, 76-66 to gain the finals.
Solomon hit a layup with 13:36 left to put Cal up 13, 53-40 - he leaked out on the break and took an over-the-shoulder pass and scored on the run, demonstrating a grace that few 6-10 players in the country can muster. “I think Richard has a wealth of talent," Montgomery said, "he just has to realize what's good play, what's bad play, what he can do, what he can't do. He gets tired and (then) he's not as good, so we have to make sure we keep him fresh out there. We've got to keep working with Richard. He missed basically all of last year, and he can really help us now. He's gained a lot of weight and strength so we'd like to see him continue to grow.”
Over the next seven minutes, however, Pacific went on a 14-6 run and closed the gap to five at 59-54 with 6:42 left, plenty of time to overtake the Bears. "Coach was telling us that we were playing lazy and didn't have the same intensity that we had in the beginning," said Crabbe. "He told us to pick it up."
David Kravish hit a very difficult shot to right the ship, and from that point forward the Tigers' basket had a lid on it, as they hit just one of their final eight attempts from the field.
"Real proud of our guys, we got within five points," said Pacific coach Bob Thomason. "And then all of a sudden our conversion wasn't good. [Cal] did a great job down the stretch. I was surprised that some of our players, who have been shooting so well, couldn't hit a shot."
The 6-0 Bears will play next at Wisconsin (4-2). The Badgers finished third in a Las Vegas-based tournament over Thanksgiving, and must play Virginia before meeting Cal. After UCLA's shocking upset loss to Cal Poly at Pauley Pavilion, the Pac-12 needs all the non-conference wins it can garner to maintain itself in the rankings. The Bruins will surely take a tumble from their 11th ranking starting the week, but it might be time for voters to begin including Cal in the top-25, as the RPI rankings already do.