The 24th-ranked Golden Bears begin their fourth season under coach Mike Montgomery with a home opener Friday night against a UC Irvine team that is young and picked to finish near the bottom of the Big West Conference. Cal, in fact, plays nine non-conference games at home and should be a prohibitive favorite in all of them.
Still, there are questions about the Bears. We may not get answers right away, but here are a few issues worth following:
— Do the Bears have a fourth scoring option, beyond Jorge Gutierrez, Harper Kamp and Allen Crabbe? Can guard Justin Cobbs, the sophomore transfer from Minnesota, become that player?
— Can the Bears show Montgomery they will rebound and play defense well enough to compete with the big kids?
— Can Cal create an inside presence to replace departed senior Markhuri Sanders-Frison? Montgomery notes that MSF was critical to Kamp’s ability to manuever effectively around the basket. He also was a tough rebounder and fierce competitor.
— Is freshman forward David Kravish ready to make a contribution now?
— What can the Bears get from junior walk-on center Robert Thurman, the revelation of their trip to northern Europe?
— Can sophomore Emerson Murray become the Bears’ fourth guard?
ABOUT THE ANTEATERS: Irvine is in its second season under coach Russell Turner, who coached under Montgomery at Stanford from 2000-04, then with him at Golden State in the NBA. The Anteaters were 13-19 last season and have not had a winning season since 2005-06. The team lost five seniors from last year, including their starting backcourt, then saw all-conference forward Eric Wise (16.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg) transfer to USC in the spring . . . Freshmen Collins Woods, Will Davis II and Aaron Wright combined to score 33 points in UCI’s 84-63 exhibition win over San Diego Christian. Irvine also beat Cal Baptist 66-54 in an exhibition.
THE SERIES: Cal leads 4-2. The Bears won the most recent matchup, 65-57, in Berkeley during the 2003-04 season. Cal is 4-0 against the Anteaters in Berkeley.
MISCELLANY: Coach Mike Montgomery is 3-0 in openers at Cal . . . The Bears have won their past five season openers . . . Cal is 81-5 all-time vs. teams from the Big West Conference . . . Yes, it’s early, but ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi is projecting the Bears as a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament.
TIPOFF: Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Haas Pavilion. TV: None. Radio: 910-AM.
Cal (0-0, 0-0 Pac-12)
|SF Allen Crabbe||6-6||So.||13.4||5.3|
|PF Harper Kamp||6-8||Sr.||14.2||5.6|
|PF Richard Solomon||6-10||So.||5.6||4.4|
|SG Jorge Gutierrez||6-3||Sr.||14.6||4.5*|
|PG Brandon Smith||5-11||Jr.||6.4||3.9*|
|G Justin Cobbs||6-2||So.||2.1**||1.3**|
|C Robert Thurman||6-10||So.||0.3||0.9|
|F David Kravish||6-9||Fr.||0.0||0.0|
**2009-10 stats at Minnesota
UC Irvine (0-0, 0-0 Big West)
|SF Michael Wilder||6-2||Jr.||9.5||5.7|
|C Mike Best||6-10||Fr.||0.0||0.0|
|SG Chris McNealy||6-4||So.||5.0||2.2|
|PF Will Davis II||6-8||Fr.||0.0||0.0|
|G Damon Starring||6-3||Jr.||7.4||3.3|
|G Collin Woods||6-1||Fr.||0.0||0.0|
|G Aaron Wright||6-3||Fr.||0.0||0.0|
|C Adam Folker||6-9||Jr.||0.0||0.0|