Twenty-two years after playing UNLV for the first time, the Golden Bears take on the Runnin’ Rebels again in a matinee Friday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Cal lost 101-81 in 1989-90 to a Vegas team coached by the legendary Jerry Tarkanian that went on to post a 35-2 record and demolished Duke 103-73 in the national championship game.
This Vegas team is good — not nearly that good, but 12-2, ranked No. 21 in the AP Top-25 and unbeaten in eight home games. The Rebels beat North Carolina when the Tar Heels were ranked No. 1, so they are very good.
What we could find out here is just how good Cal is. The Bears are 10-2 and have won four in a row, but they are 1-2 outside Haas Pavilion and will play again without starting forward Richard Solomon, still nursing a stress fracture/reaction.
Comparing scores, even against common opponents, is a slippery slope. But both teams played UC Santa Barbara, and the results were somewhat different. UNLV needed two overtimes to subdue the Gauchos on the road, while Cal undressed Santa Barbara by 20 points at home, despite playing without two starters and having a third on the floor while under the weather.
It may or may not mean anything, but at least it suggests the Bears are starting to find themselves. Even without senior guard Jorge Gutierrez (food poisoning or the flu) and Solomon, and with senior forward Harper Kamp diminished by his own set of flu-like symptoms, the Bears dominated.
They played superb defense and were smart and efficient on offense. They got the ball to the right guys in the right places, and they made shots. They took the game from the start and never let UCSB compete.
Word from Vegas is that Gutierrez and Kamp are feeling 100 percent again. It’s possible that what struck them last Sunday/Monday was a bug, not food poisoning because Allen Crabbe wasn’t feel great on Wednesday. But he will be ready and the Bears should be at mostly full strength.
This is Cal’s final game before the start of Pac-12 play on Dec. 29 against USC. It could definitely benefit the Bears for NCAA tournament seeding purposes, but it’s hardly the most important game they’ll play this season.
Still, should be a fascinating measuring stick.
ABOUT THE RUNNIN’ REBELS: Under first-year coach Dave Rice, UNLV is ranked No. 21 in the AP Top-25. Rice played at UNLV (he scored three points off the bench in the 1989-90 win over Cal) and most recently served as associate head coach at BYU, helping the Cougars to five straight 25-win seasons . . . One of the team’s assistants is Stacey Augmon, a former teammate of Rice and starter on the Rebels’ 1990 NCAA championship team . . . Two of UNLV’s top players are Chace Stanback and Mike Moser, who began their careers at UCLA. Stanback is coming off a 29-point performance against Louisiana-Monroe, in which he hit 8 of 9 shots from 3-point range . . . UNLV boasts wins over North Carolina, USC, Illinois and UC Santa Barbara. Its losses, both on the road, were to Wichita State (9-2) and Wisconsin (10-2)
THE SERIES: UNLV leads 3-1 all-time, but Cal won the most recent matchup, a 73-55 decision at Las Vegas in 2008-09.
THE COMPUTER: RealTimeRPI.com had UNLV ranked No. 10 nationally on Thursday and put Cal at No. 59. The big difference? The Rebels’ strength-of-schedule rating is No. 44, the Bears’ No. 143. But both teams are credited with 10-2 records because UNLV has two wins — over Grand Canyon by 23 points and Cal State San Marcos by 44 — that were against non-Division I teams, and those are not factored in by the computer.
It’s actually smart scheduling by UNLV. Those teams probably aren’t appreciably worse (or better) than, say, UC Irvine or McNeese State, whose poor ratings drag down Cal’s RPI. But the Rebels can beat up on those opponents, have the computer toss them out, and not see any drop in their strength-of-schedule.
MISCELLANY: Cal is third nationally in 3-point accuracy at .438, behind Indiana (.468) and Colorado State (.447) . . . The Bears lead the Pac-12 and are 19th nationally in FT accuracy at .751 . . . Sophomore Justin Cobbs tops the Pac-12 in 3-point accuracy at .636 and would lead the nation but does not have enough attempts. He is 14 for 22 in 12 games and the NCAA requires a minimum of two attempts per game . . . The Bears’ plus 9.0 rebounding margin is second in the conference.
TIPOFF: 2 p.m. Friday at Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas. TV: CBS College Sports Network. Radio: 910-AM.
Cal (10-2, 0-0 Pac-12)
|SF Allen Crabbe||6-6||So.||16.1||5.8|
|PF Harper Kamp||6-8||Sr.||8.8||5.5|
|PF David Kravish||6-9||Fr.||5.3||6.3|
|SG Jorge Gutierrez||6-3||Sr.||13.9||5.0|
|PG Justin Cobbs||6-2||So.||12.0||4.4*|
|G Brandon Smith||5-11||Jr.||5.2||3.4*|
|G Emerson Murray||6-2||So.||2.1||0.8|
|F Bak Bak||6-8||Jr.||2.3||1.6|
UNLV (12-2, 0-0 Mountain West)
|PF Brice Massamba||6-10||Sr.||5.7||3.3|
|SF Mike Moser||6-8||So.||13.6||11.4|
|SF Chace Stanback||6-8||Sr.||14.5||5.0|
|SG Anthony Marshall||6-3||Jr.||9.0||4.9*|
|PG Oscar Bellfield||6-2||Sr.||10.4||4.9*|
|G Justin Hawkins||6-3||Jr.||10.1||2.6|
|F Carlos Lopez||6-11||So.||7.9||3.2|
|F Quintrell Thoms||6-8||Jr.||4.5||3.3|