The Golden Bears are 3-0 against teams everyone knew they would beat: UC Irvine, George Washington and Austin Peay.
In each case, the Bears” intensity and experience was too much.
“We’ve come out with some energy and been pretty good defensively,” coach Mike Montgomery said, alluding to the fact that Cal’s three opponents have shot 38.1 percent. “In fairness, I think we’ve been a little bit better than our opponents and our energy has allowed us to take them out.”
It will be tougher beginning Monday, when the 23rd-ranked Bears face Georgia in the CBE Classic semifinals at Kansas City, Mo. The next night, the Bears will play either Notre Dame or Missouri. Every team in the event is unbeaten at this point.
“You’re going to be playing against bigger, stronger athletes. It’ll be a bigger challenge for us, no question,” Montgomery said. “It will be quite a challenge.”
A challenge the Bears want. They understand they need to validate what they’ve done so far, and prove they’re ready to stand toe-to-toe with the big kids.
“We’re definitely looking forward to the opportunity,” point guard Brandon Smith said. “We get to play some top teams. We look forward to kind of showing the nation what we’ve got.”
Cal took cross-country trips the past two seasons to play high-end opponents, and neither went well.
In 2009-10, the eventual Pac-10 champion Bears went to the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament at New York’s Madison Square Garden and lost 95-73 to Syracuse, then 76-70 to Ohio State.
Last season, with a less-experienced team, the Bears beat Temple to open the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla. But they scored just five first-half points in a 57-44 loss to Notre Dame, then lost 68-46 to Boston College.
“When we went to Florida, Notre Dame handled us pretty good. Georgia was there,” Montgomery said. “We know what we’re up against. We’re going to have to be better, longer.”