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Putting the pads on

Three people were near the top of Tightwad Hill late Thursday afternoon taking a quick peek at the Cal football team’s spring practice. The trio was spotted by Cal security and one of them, standing at the top of the stadium rim with a bullhorn, ordered the onlookers to move along.

Yes, things were fairly intense for the Bears’ first day in pads this spring, with plenty of big hits, nice plays and overzealous security guards.  

“First day in pads, I was happy with the intensity,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. ”Pretty physical today, a lot of hitting. I was pleased with it.”

In early 11-on-11 drills, QB Kevin Riley had a lot of running plays but looked sharp with some of his throws. Brock Mansion and Beau Sweeney alos took snaps and had to deal with more pressure from the defense, but overall didn’t look too bad considering it was just the third day of spring ball. Riley said he was already starting to feel comfortable with new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.

With Jahvid Best still nursing a foot injury, tailback Shane Vereen got several reps and found a few holes. Kevin Lewis, the former DB, showed some explosiveness when he was able to get into space. Tedford said Lewis obviously still has to learn some things on offense, but was impressed with his quickness and his ball-catching ability.  

The defense made some nice plays as well with a few interceptions and even a sack, something that’s usually verboten in practice, as Trevor Guyton and Ernest Owusu corralled Sweeney. Nobody was hurt. Syd Thompson also came up and had a couple of big hits at the line of scrimmage.

The team is off for spring break until March 31. Your boy, J.O., will be back then to fill you in on all the details. I have a feeling he’ll post some items next week, though. He just can’t help himself.

- Curtis Pashelka

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Basketball: Bears’ post-mortem

I’ll have more looking ahead at next season in the coming days, but here are a few post-game notes and observations after the Bears’ 84-71 loss to Maryland:

– There was much agreement in the Cal dressing room that Greivis Vasquez’s three-point play on the put-back/FT after two missed FTs by teammate Adrian Bowie was the game’s key play. Cal had climbed within seven, but suddenly it was 10, and that play triggered an 11-3 run that put things out of reach.

– The play was a symptom, the players agreed, of a season-long problem: a lack of toughness with the game on the line. Mike Montgomery was OK with the fact that this hurt a bit — he’s hoping it will be a painful off-season reminder as his players are working out for next year.

– Patrick Christopher said he may test the waters of the NBA by entering his name in the draft, attending the camps, and listening to what scouts have to say. If he doesn’t hire an agent, Christopher can withdraw his name and return to school. Smart money says this is what will happen, but he has nothing to lose by letting the scouts tell him what they think.

– Christopher shot just 4-for-14 (and was 0-for-7 from 3-PT). He said it was not the result of fatigue from chasing around Vasquez at the defensive end. Monty speculated that might have contributed. But Christopher has struggled with his shot down the stretch, shooting 30 percent from the field over the final foour games, including 4-for-26 from 3-point range.

– Jerome Randle had 14 points, but only three in the second half. He has moved to 20th on Cal’s career list with 1,184 points. Christopher is 25th at 1,154. Randle also is tied with Ayinde Ubaka for third on the Bears’ career 3-point list with 160.

– Theo Roberton was the Bears’ best offensive weapon in the second half, when he scored 16 of his team-high 22 points.

– The Bears, who obviously rely heavily on the 3-point shot, were 7-for-24. That doesn’t get it done, and they really have no alternatives. Will be interesting to see whether they can diversify next year with basically the same personnel. 

– Sophomore forward Omondi Amoke, who suffered a concussion in practice Sunday, was given clearance to play by the Cal medical staff,  leaving the decision in the hands of Montgomery. Amoke said afterward he wanted to play. He got in for 3 minutes, had 3 rebounds and a blocked shot.

– Everyone else I talked with — including D.J. Seeley and Max Zhang — said they plan to return. No word on third-year sophomore center Taylor Harrison, who has missed the past two seasons with serious knee issues. I’m still thinking he may take a medical retirement, allowing him to finish school and the program to recoup his scholarship.

– Harper Kamp said he might need minor off-season surgery on his right knee, a problem all season. He plans to talk to the medical staff and wants to make a decision quickly, so he can began the rehab process ASAP. In any case, it won’t be anything major, he said.

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Basketball: Maryland game thread

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FINAL: Maryland 84, Cal 71. The Bears never recovered from the Terps’ 9-0 spurt. They got within seven points at one juncture before Vasquez scored on a putback of a missed free throw, then was fouled and completed the 3-point play for a 66-56 lead with 7:18 left. That triggered an 11-3 run that ended things. In the final analysis, the Terps was just a little tougher to loose balls and a little calmer down the stretch. More later. Bears finish a pretty good season 22-11.

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9:55 2nd H: Montgomery just called timeout to quell a 9-0 Maryland run that has put the Terps up 59-51, their biggest lead in the game. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne changed the game, and this is a critical moment for Cal. This game could get out of hands quickly if the Bears don’t respond. Gutierrez and D.J. Seeley back in, along with Randle, Robertson and Kamp. PC getting a rest.

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11:49 2nd H: Cal leads 51-50. Robertson has scored 12 second-half points, including a mid-range jumper a few moments ago, giving the lead to the Bears for just the second time. Robertson has 18 points. Cal is finding a bit more rhythm in its offense. Christopher doing a nice job defensively on Vasquez, making him work and not allowing the Maryland offense to easily flow through him. Boykin has returned and made a couple big baskets inside on up-and-under layups.

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SECOND HALF STARTS: Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp — the two Cal players who took charges in the first half — are starting, in place of Wilkes and Boykin.

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HALFTIME: Maryland leads 34-31 in what has been a somewhat ragged game. Cal is shooting 33 percent from the field, just 3-for-13 from 3-point range and has missed four of its 10 FTs. Randle has 11 points, but his darting drives to the hoop (four times) have been the Bears’ best offense. Ball movement is erratic and very few good looks from the perimeter. Christopher is just 3-for-10 (0-for-5 from 3PT) and has six points.

Maryland not much better: 37.5 percent from the field. Four different Cal players– most often Christopher or Gutierrez – have taken a turn defending Vasquez, who has 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting and just one reobund with zero assists. Cal’s one clear advantage — a 24-19 rebounding edge that includes 11 offensive boards. The Bears have 10 second-chance points. This game is there for the taking by Cal, but Maryland’s aggressive defense definitely has them out of sync on offense, and the Bears may have to figure out a way to win an ugly one.

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11:36 1st H: Our second media timeout and the Bears are trying to weather the early-game storm. The Terps lead 17-15.  The Bears appeared very shaky coming out of the game, with two turnovers and an airball by Randle on their first three possessions of the game. Still struggling to crack Maryland’s fullcourt press after Terps’ baskets, so it’s imperative the Bears play good enough defense to avoid the press whenever possible. Randle just hit a 3-pointer, so maybe he’s finding a rhythm.  All in all, Cal should feel good to be trailing by just two points in a game so far controlled by Maryland.

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FOG LIFTS: Cal sophomore reserve forward Omondi Amoke, who said he still was feeling “foggy”‘ on Wednesday after suffering a concussion in practice Sunday, has been cleared to play. This is good news for the Bears, who need all the manpower they can get against a team that goes deeper on its bench. Also, Amoke is a good matchup for several of Maryland’s players.

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LINEUPS: According to lineup sheets just distributed courtside, Cal will start its usual group — Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson, Jamal Boykin and Jordan Wilkes. Maryland’s starters: Greivis Vasquez, Sean Mosley, Adrian Bowie, Dave Neal and Landon Milbourne.

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RECORDS: Cal 22-10, 11-7/tied third in Pac-10; Maryland 20-13, 7-9/tied 7th in ACC.

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NOTE: To meet NCAA regulations governing how often in-game blogs can be posted, I will not be providing an update at each timeout, as usual.  Will try to give you observations and insights when appropriate without violating the law of the land.

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Basketball: Pre-game reading

Here’s my story from this morning’s editions previewing Cal’s game with Maryland.

Also, my NCAA Tournament notebook, inclduding items on former California School for the Deaf player Michael Lizarraga’s experience at the NCAAs in Kansas City, and the special phone call that Jerome Randle got this week.

And Monte Poole’s Web-exclusive column on how ex-Cal coach Todd Bozeman is embracing his second chance.

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Basketball: Maryland scouting report

 Cal and Maryland would both prefer a free-flowing, open-court game in today’s NCAA Tournament opener.

Certainly Bears point guard Jerome Randle wants it that way.

“Why change up your game? Just play the type of basketball that got you there,” Randle said. “We just have to be smart. Don’t let them dictate what’s going on out there.”

Mike Montgomery isn’t so sure that’s what will happen because NCAA games typically turn into lower-scoring, conversative affairs.

“I think both coaches would like to get out and get the stuff off the break,” Monty said. “I don’t want them to have it. I don’t want Vasquez in the open court anymore than I can prevent it from happening.”

Venezuelan-born Greivis Vasquez is the centerpiece of the Terps’ attack, a 6-foot-6 point guard who leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals, free-throw percentage and minutes played.

Continue Reading

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Cal football: So long for a couple days

As some of you may know, our company currently is going through a mandatory furlough program where all employees are required to take five days of unpaid leave. I already have taken three days but will be taking my final two Thursday and Friday. I won’t be at practice Thursday night, but my capable colleague, Curtis Pashelka, will be filling in and posting a practice report tomorrow night.

That also will be Cal’s last practice until March 31 because next week is spring break.

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Cal football: Pro Day summary

It wasn’t a good day for Cal’s “Big Three” linebackers unit. Zack Follett couldn’t run at all after tweaking his hamstring training last week. Anthony Felder, who wasn’t able to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine because of a hip flexor he incurred doing the broad jump, pulled up with a hamstring injury while running the 40 today. And Worrell Williams suffered a strained groin while running the 40.

One player who really stood out was fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou. Fullbacks aren’t drafted often in the NFL these days, but Ta’ufo’ou looked good during drills and catching passes from Nate Longshore during Longshore’s passing workout.

Defensive end Rulon Davis didn’t participate. He said he was satisfied enough with his performance at the NFL combine, but he did show up as an onlooker.

Others that worked out for the scouts were tight end Cameron Morrah, wide receivers Sean Young and LaReylle Cunningham, defensive tackle Mika Kane and long snapper Nick Sundberg. There also were some former Cal players working out, such as quarterback Joe Ayoob, offensive lineman Erik Robertson, wide receiver Burl Toler, and placekicker Tom Schneider.

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Cal football: Nate Longshore’s Pro Day

Former Cal quarterback Nate Longshore was happy with how he performed at Pro Day. After going through the weightlifting and on-field drills (40-yard dash, shuttle, three-cone drill), Longshore threw about 75 passes to different receivers running different routes in front of several NFL scouts.

Longshore said he feels healthier than he has in a long time. His body has been beaten up over the past couple years with ankle, shoulder and pectoral muscle injuries.

“My body feels good,” Longshore said. “I’ve had time to recover from all those different things. Now I feel like I’m throwing the ball like I should be.”

Longshore has been hard at work since the end of the season preparing for the draft. He spent two months in Atlanta working out at the renowned Competitive Edge Sports facility, where he worked with former Cal coach and quarterbacks guru Roger Theder. He also recently spent some time working out in Southern California.

Most projections don’t have Longshore getting drafted, but he very well could wind up in an NFL training camp in the fall as a free agent.

“I just want to get into a camp,” Longshore said. “I don’t have any preference or anything. I just want an opportunity to go and compete for a spot.”

This is an exciting time for Longshore. He and his wife, Rachel, are expecting their first child in August.