The Bears get back on the horse Saturday against an unbeaten Denver squad that runs the Princeton offense and shoots the 3-pointer effectively.
But mostly, this is about Cal. The Bears, coming off a 92-53 embarrassment at the hands of Missouri, must reassert themselves.
Beating the Pioneers of the Sun Belt Conference won’t prove much in itself, but it will be interesting to see if Cal can rediscover its rhythm and confidence after sustaining the worst nonconference defeat in school history.
The Bears have two days left as the nation’s No. 20 team — new rankings come out Monday and they are sure to be out of the top-25. This is an opportunity to show they were once deserving of that status.
Cal could not cope with Missouri’s superior quickness on Tuesday night at Kansas City, and that disparity led to bad things on both ends of the floor.
Allen Crabbe, the deserving Pac-10 freshman of the year last season, opened the schedule by averaging 22.5 points and shooting 18 for 33 in Cal’s first two games. He is scoring 6.7 points and shooting 6 for 29 in the past three.
Point guard Brandon Smith was ineffective against Mizzou, totaling four turnovers and zero assists. Even the seniors struggled: Harper Kamp shot 1 for 8 and Jorge Gutierrez lost his composure and fouled out early.
The Bears will be tested again before the start of the Pac-12 season, maybe not by Denver but soon. They play Dec. 4 at San Diego State, face capable mid-majors UC Santa Barbara and Weber State at home, then travel to UNLV on Dec. 23.
There are plenty of hurdles to get over before the conference schedule. The Bears will try to take the first step on Saturday.
ABOUT THE PIONEERS: Denver is 4-0 for the first time since 1996-97 after beating Saint Mary’s 70-58 at home. The Pioneers also boast a win over Southern Miss . . . Four starters return from a team that was 13-17 in 2010-11 . . . Princeton grad Joe Scott is in his fifth season as coach, and the Pioneers shoot the 3-pointer effectively if not excessively. They converted 40.1 percent from beyond the arc last season and are are 42.0 percent (29 for 69) through four games. They hit 10 of 20 vs. the Gaels . . . Leading the way is senior guard Brian Stafford, a Las Lomas HS grad, who enters this game with a team-best 17.0 scoring average and 1,206 career points. Stafford was Denver’s team MVP as a freshman and has started all 97 games of his career . . . Sophomore forward Chris Udofia, at just 6-6, already has 17 blocked shots this season . . . Cal should be able to exploit the Pioneers inside. They have been outrebounded by an average margin of 7.5 per game so far.
THE SERIES: Cal leads 2-0. The teams have not played since 1967-68, when the Bears won 96-82 in Denver. Cal won 73-68 the year before in Berkeley.
MISCELLANY: Although Cal’s national ranking is not long for this world, it’s perhaps worth noting that Denver is 13-47 all-time vs. ranked opponents and hasn’t beaten a top-25 team since 1971 . . . Denver will join the Western Athletic Conference in 10 sports, including basketball, beginning in 2012-13.
TIPOFF: 2 p.m. Saturday at Haas Pavilion, Berkeley. Radio: 910-AM.
Cal (4-1, 0-0 Pac-12)
|SF Allen Crabbe||6-6||So.||13.0||4.6|
|PF Harper Kamp||6-8||Sr.||9.8||6.4|
|PF Richard Solomon||6-10||So.||6.8||6.2|
|SG Jorge Gutierrez||6-3||Sr.||13.0||5.8|
|PG Brandon Smith||5-11||Jr.||6.8||2.8*|
|G Justin Cobbs||6-2||So.||9.4||4.0*|
|F David Kravish||6-9||Fr.||6.2||6.4|
|G Emerson Murray||6-3||So.||2.4||0.8|
Denver (4-0, 0-0 Sun Belt)
|PF Chris Udofia||6-6||So.||15.3||4.3|
|SF Rob Lewis||6-7||Sr.||10.3||3.5|
|SG Chase Hallam||6-5||Jr.||6.5||4.3|
|SG Brian Stafford||6-4||Sr.||17.0||1.8|
|PG Brett Olson||6-5||Fr.||2.3||1.8|
|F Royce O’Neale||6-5||Fr.||8.0||4.8|
|F Justin Coughlin||6-9||Sr.||2.5||0.3|
|G Travis Hallam||6-5||Sr.||2.3||1.8|