Portland (7-5), which hopes to scramble into the upper division of the West Coast Conference this season, can climb above .500 against the Pac-10 this preseason with a victory tonight in the finals of the Golden Bear Classic.
Cal (10-2) will try to prevent that and, in the process, earn an 11th victory before the start of conference play for the first time since the 1946-47 season.
Coached by Eric Reveno, a former player and assistant coach under Mike Montgomery at Stanford, the Pilots opened the season by beating Washington 80-74, and last weekend lost 79-76 in overtime at Oregon.
“He’s done a fabulous job. I’m really proud of him,” said Montgomery, in his first season at Cal. “They are disciplined and organized. They’re tough to beat.”
The Pilots should look familiar to the Bears as they run the same offense Monty has been teaching for years.
“Portland does the best job of feeding their inside people of anybody we’ve faced,” Montgomery said.
The Pilots are significantly bigger than the Dartmouth team Cal beat 98-62 in Saturday’s first-round game.
Their usual starting center, 6-foot-9, 245-pound sophomore Kramer Knutson, averages 7.5 points and 3.2 rebounds. But he suffered a concussion during practice on Christmas and did not play Saturday against Air Force. His status for tonight is unclear.
Luke Sikma, a 6-8, 230-pound sophomore, started in his place against Air Force and responded with seven points and 13 rebounds. If the name sounds familiar, Sikma is the son of former Seattle Sonics star Jack Sikma.
Also up front is Robin Smeulders, a 6-10, 240-pound junior from Braunshweig, Germany. Smeulders missed his first seven shots against Air Force before converting a layup and free throw with 33 seconds left to secure the 43-42 victory.
Portland’s size should provide Cal center Jordan Wilkes with the kind of challenge he could face in Pac-10 play. Wilkes equaled his career high with 11 points in Cal’s win over Dartmouth, but Montgomery said evaluating his performance has been tricky.
“There’s been tough matchups,” Montgomery said. “We really haven’t played against big guys. It seems like every game people end up going small and that provides awkward matchups for us.”
Portland’s best player is junior wing Nik Raivio, who failed to score double digits on Saturday for just the second time this season, finishing with seven points against Air Force. Raivio has scored 18 points or more seven times.
NIEDERMEYER COMES HOME: Portland junior forward Ethan Niedermeyer, who missed five games with a high ankle sprain, scored eight points off the bench against Air Force in his most productive outing since Nov. 21.
The De La Salle High grad averaged 12 points over Portland’s first three games this season, including 14 in the season-opening upset of Washington. For the season, he’s averaging 6.4 ppg.
TIPOFF: 5 p.m. Sunday, Haas Pavilion, Berkeley.
TV: None. RADIO: 1550 AM.
NOTES: Cal has won 10 of the previous 15 Golden Bear Classic titles, including three of the last four . . . This is the third time in five years the Bears will meet a team from the West Coast Conference in the tournament final. Cal beat Pepperdine 61-58 in the 2004 title game, but lost 72-67 to San Diego in 2006 . . . Jerome Randle’s 15 points against Dartmouth made him Cal’s leading scorer for the 11th time in 12 games this season . . . The Bears, who have led the nation in 3-point accuracy much of the early season, remain just above 50 percent at 76-for-151 for 50.3 percent . . . Portland’s Jared Stohl, who entered the weekend shooting 43.3 percent from 3-point range, was just 1-for-11 against Air Force . . . Doubtful to play tonight is Cal sophomore backup center Max Zhang, who injured his right wrist in Saturday’s game.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
PF Jamal Boykin, 6-8, Jr., 9.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg
SF Theo Robertson, 6-5, Jr., 11.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg
C Jordan Wilkes, 7-0, Jr., 4.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg
SG Patrick Christopher, 6-5, Jr., 14.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg
PG Jerome Randle, 5-10, Jr., 19.8 ppg, 4.8 apg
PF Robin Smeulders, 6-10, Jr., 12.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg
SF Nik Raivio, 6-4, Jr., 16.1 ppg, 6.4 apg
C Kramer Knutson, 6-9, So., 7.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg
SG Jared Stohl, 6-1, So., 10.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg
PG T.J. Campbell, 5-9, Jr., 10.5 ppg, 2.4 apg