Cal prepares for its game Friday at UNLV knowing its national reputation still needs a bit of mending because of a 92-53 loss to Missouri back on Nov. 22. For much of the country, that was the game that defines the 2011-12 Bears.
Maybe it’s not fair because it was just one game. But it was a gruesome game and it’s the one everyone was watching.
They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That’s not true in this instance. The Bears have the chance to alter their image Friday — and bring home that higher profile.
The Runnin’ Rebels are 12-2 and own wins over North Carolina and Illinois. They are good and people know it. If the Bears emerge with a victory on the eve of Christmas Eve, their stock rises.
Cal has regrouped since the Mizzou loss. The Bears are 6-1 over the past four weeks, losing only by one point on the road to a strong San Diego State team (in a game they should have won).
Their 70-50 win Monday over UC Santa Barbara — and the game wasn’t as close as the final score — was achieved with only 60 percent of their starting lineup available. Jorge Gutierrez (food poisoning) and Richard Solomon (stress fracture) were out and senior forward Harper Kamp played despite flu symptoms.
Cal has won its nine home games by an average margin of 23.8 points. None of them was closer than 16.
The Bears’ defense hasn’t allowed more than 64 points in any game other than Missouri, and is surrendering an average of just 51.6 points in 10 victories. In their past two games, they held two of the nation’s top four scorers — Weber State’s Damian Lillard and UCSB’s Orlando Johnson — each 13 points under their scoring average.
NBA scouts attending both games certainly noticed. It seems the computers also may have.
— The Bears are now No. 25 in the Sagarin ratings, despite a strength of schedule rating of 243.
— The Ken Pomeroy rankings have the Bears at No. 15.
— Cal is No. 62 according to RPI rankings published by CBSSports.com, but even that is a half-dozen slots better than a day ago.
Gutierrez and Kamp should both be healthy by Friday, and the Bears know they won’t have Solomon at least for one more game.
They demonstrated against UCSB that the whole can be stronger than its parts, even if some of the parts are absent. If they want their computer rating — and their national reputation — to continue climbing, they’ll need to play like that again vs. the Runnin’ Rebels when people are watching.