A big night in Orlando for the Golden Bears.
(Disclaimer: I did not make the trip to Florida; watched on TV from home after Thanksgiving dinner. Hope you all enjoyed your day).
What we know: Cal improved to 3-0 by beating No. 21 Temple 57-50 in the first round of the Old Spice Classic.
What we don’t know: Just how good Temple really is. The Owls beat two mediocre teams to start the season, having earned their ranking based on 29 victories a year ago and three returning starters. But are they actually the 21st-best team in the country?
What we know: On a night when they played 2,500 miles from home, did not shoot the ball well and turned the ball over 18 times, the Bears showed the toughness and resourcefulness to beat a very solid and far more experienced team.
I thought Cal played better in its 89-64 win over New Mexico, but that was at Haas Pavilion and the challenge here was greater. Cal once again demonstrated we should not settle on a ceiling for this team’s potential.
“Since day one, we just told people that we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” center Markhuri Sanders-Frison told reporters afterward. “Everybody thought that we didn’t have that much firepower coming back because we lost a lot of our good players last year. I think this win opened a lot of eyes to people around the world.”
Added coach Mike Montgomery: “I don’t know what a rebuilding is. All I know is we start two freshman and come off the bench with a whole lot more, and I’ve never done that before. . . . Again, I thought we’re showing some signs of toughness and that part is nice to see.”
The Bears trailed 45-38 with less than eight minutes left when they took charge with a 16-1 run. Temple, which shot 2-for-19 from 3-point range, too often showed impatience and settled for perimeter shots.
“They defended us well those last seven minutes and they made the shots that they needed to make,” Owls coach Fran Dunphy said.
For the Bears, there were lots of contributors. Junior forward Harper Kamp had 13 points and seven rebounds, Sanders-Frison had eight points and nine rebounds and freshman Allen Crabbe scored a career-high 12, including 5 for 6 from the FT line, and grabbed eight rebounds. Freshman Gary Franklin added 10 points.
The Bears won despite a tough offensive night for PG Jorge Gutierrez, who had 10 points, but just one assist and four turnovers. Gutierrez was his usual hard-nosed self on defense, helping to limit Temple star guard Juan Fernandez to nine points on 2 for 14 shooting.
The freshmen showed more growth in Game 3. Besides Crabbe and Franklin, forward Richard Solomon gave the Bears four points, five rebounds, two steals and two assists in 16 minutes. He was the only Cal reserve to score — the rest of the bench was a combined 0 for 7 shooting in 28 minutes.
“It was a great win for us (but) it was kind of an awful game, there were a lot of mistakes both ways,” Montgomery said. “I don’t know what prompted that, obviously I thought both teams played hard, but it wasn’t very pretty.”
HISTORY LESSON: The win was Cal’s first over Temple since a 49-43 victory during the 1935-36 season. The Owls had won the past three, most recently in 1973-74.
WHAT’S NEXT: The victory moves the Bears into today’s 2 p.m. semifinal (ESPN2) against Notre Dame (5-0), which beat Georgia 89-83 in double-overtime. The Irish got 25 points from senior forward Tim Abromatis.
Cal and Notre Dame have met just once, with the Bears winning 63-59 in Hawaii during the 1966-67 season.
A victory today and Montgomery would reach 50 wins at Cal in 72 games — faster than any coach at Berkeley since Nibs Price won 50 of his first 60 games from 1924-25 through the start of the 1928-29 season.