Former Bears Never Knew They Held Home Wins Record


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By David Bush, Staff Writer
Posted Dec 16, 2016
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2017

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Pete Newell with 1959 Championship Trophy
Photo: Cal Athletics
Cal's basketball team is about to set a school record for consecutive home victories. If the Bears beat Cal Poly Saturday night it will be the 27th straight win on their home floor, one more than the team compiled between December 1958 and January 1961. Virtually every news story and publicity release for the last couple of months has mentioned the landmark prominently.

Unlike the current Bears, who are justifiably proud of their achievement, the former record holders were a little less enthusiastic. Not only do they not care it is about to fall, most of them were unaware they had set it in the first place.

"No disrespect, but we didn't keep track of that," Bill McClintock, a forward for the life of the previous streak and the team captain in 1960-61 season, said in a phone interview. "I don't remember even talking about it."

Former Cal head coach Rene Herrerias, an assistant at the time, said "We just took it a game at a time and how it happened you never know."

"I knew they had a streak going," said Earl Shultz, a guard from 1958-61. "But I didn't realize that we had the record. I don't remember it at all, and we didn't ever talk about it. At least not to my knowledge."

"I saw something in the paper that Cal was about to set a record," said Ned Averbuck, a reserve forward (58-61). "But until you told me I didn't know it was ours. … We didn't think in those terms. Us knowing about a record was the furthest thing from what we were about."

Of course, what that team was about was winning. Led by in incomparable coach Pete Newell the Bears won four conference championships, twice bowing out in the Western Regional Final (Elite Eight in today's terms) and twice advancing to the Final Four, winning the NCAA championship in 1959 and finishing second the next year. In addition to the home winning streak there was an overall unbeaten string of 25 games in a row starting in January '59 and running until December.

It's easy to see how 26 consecutive home wins can get lost in the shuffle.

"We were more concerned with beating UCLA than any winning streaks," said Bob Steiner, former Cal Sports Information Director.

The media landscape has changed in the decades since the mark was set. Although I remember watching some of the Cal games on TV, the primary ways to follow the team then were radio and newspapers. Even cable TV was years in the future, not to mention the Internet. Most of the players did not have telephones in their rooms. Today, tracking records is much easier.

Interestingly the last home loss before the previous streak began is one of the more significant games in Cal history. Newell was never hesitant to bring on top-flight opposition. USF with Bill Russell and Kansas with Wilt Chamberlain both played in Berkeley. On Dec. 12, 1958, Kansas State, coached by future Hall of Famer Tex Winter, led by All-American Bob Boozer and ranked third in the country came to Harmon.

Wanting to sharpen his team for the conference season ahead and not caring about padding his record, Newell played mostly his reserves, eventually narrowly losing 68-65. "Pete played a bunch of us who were not starters," said McClintock, a sophomore at the time. "Myself, Shultz and so on. We lost but we got some valuable experience."

Newell knew what he was doing. "Pete later said that game might have cost them the national championship and won us the national championship," said Steiner. "Pete played a bunch of guys and Tex didn't."

Shultz said that game was typical Newell. "Pete played a lot of people in the preseason, trying to use the preseason to prepare for the regular (conference) season," Shultz said. "And find out which is his best combination. …He didn't worry about winning or losing in the preseason which a lot of people do now."

It should be noted that the conference season was much more important than it is today in terms of making the NCAA Tournament. Only conference champs received bids. Finish second and no Big Dance no matter how good your record.

Following the Kansas State game, Cal would lose just three more times that season, all on the road. After a defeat at Stanford Jan. 16 the Bears rolled through the rest of the year unbeaten. They capped it with the unforgettable victories over Cincinnati (Oscar Robertson) and West Virginia (Jerry West) in the Final Four.

Forward Bill McClintock

By the end of that year they had won 16 consecutive games overall and nine in a row at home. They opened the next season with nine straight victories, losing for the first time to USC in the conference opener in Los Angeles. Two nights later they thrashed the Trojans and never looked back until the national finals.

On Jan. 29, 1960 the Bears clobbered Oregon, 70-45, for their 17th consecutive home victory, breaking the record set between February 1953 and January 1954. There was little fanfare. "I don't remember putting out a press release or anything that we set that record," Steiner said.

They went unbeaten the rest of that regular season and through the NCAA Tournament until losing to Ohio State in the championship game.

Herrerias took over the following season and the Bears opened the season 8-2. One of the losses was a memorable 83-80 four overtime classic to Iowa, whose star was Don Nelson, in the L.A. Invitational. They opened the conference season with a home victory over Stanford before losing to USC at Harmon on back-to-back nights, Jan. 6 and 7. "We should have won both those games," Averbuck growled.

National Champions

Nevertheless the home streak was ended, but the record would stand for 55 years.

While they were winning games home and away, the Bears always felt they felt an edge on their home court. "It was like you were in a room that could accommodate 20 people and there were six or seven thousand in there," Bob Dalton, a forward on the title team said in a Harmon history. "I think the crowd's support meant as much as six or seven points a game, particularly in our type of game because we pressed. We got on a roll and stole the ball three or four times, you could see the anguish on the opponents' faces because the noise level would get so high."

"The place was certainly different," said Averbuck. "And the men's rooting section was just crazy." 

The Bears had other things going for them. "Yes we had a home court advantage," Shultz said. "But our real advantage was Pete's coaching and Rene's scouting. Rene might have been the best scout ever. It has been said many times that we often knew the other team's plays better than they did."

While their predecessors weren't cognizant of the record, the current players, reminded constantly by the publicity department, know what's going on.

"I want to say we became aware of it at some point during Pac-12 play last year," said forward Jabari Bird. "I think we had 13 straight home wins and thought we could make some history. At the end of the season we were 18-0 at home."

Bird says the team is not consumed with the mark, but they will talk about it occasionally. "We do it after we win, he said. "We go into the locker room and write down how much we have so we can keep track."

Coach Cuonzo Martin, like Newell and Herrerias, is concerned with things other than winning streaks. But he knows this will be something his team, unlike the earlier squads, is not likely to forget. "In most cases with players those things don't set in until they leave school years later," Martin said. "It's a good thing but still, a lot of work to be done."

And once they found out the details, the older Bears were cheering them on. "I hope they get it," McClintock said. "Records were made to be broken."

Even forgotten records.

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