UCLA, perhaps the most disappointing team in the nation the first month of the season, is making progress and will pose a challenge for Cal on Saturday afternoon at Haas Pavilion.
Preseason favorites in the Pac-12 Conference, the Bruins (7-6, 0-1 Pac-12) are no longer the mess they were after a 2-5 dissension-ridden start.
“They did what they needed to do to solidify their ballclub, and that’s get rid of Reeves Nelson, who was a huge distraction for everybody,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “He was causing everybody to just be off-balance and not know what was going on.”
Twice suspended for behavior and attitude problems by Bruins coach Ben Howland, the returning all-conference junior forward from Modesto finally was dismissed from the team on Dec. 9. UCLA responded by winning five straight games.
“There was a constant elephant in the room and (Howland) said, `OK, enough’s enough.’ Now they got a bunch of guys who want to play together,” Montgomery said. “Since that time they’ve won and they’ve won big. They’re not bad. Good ballclub.”
It’s not like Nelson was providing the Bruins much, anyway. A year after averaging 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds, Nelson contributed just 5.7 points and 4.7 rebounds. Among his November highlights: Missing the team flight to Maui. C’mon! Who in their right mind misses a flight to Hawaii?
UCLA lost 60-59 in its Pac-12 opener Thursday at Stanford, but boasts the kind of size that could cause trouble for the Bears (11-3, 1-0). The new-look Bruins have improved defensively, allowing an average of just 53.8 points the past five games. They surrendered 67.7 points per game through the first seven games.
ABOUT THE BRUINS: The Bruins will try to exploit their size advantage on the Bears, who still don’t figure to have 6-10 Richard Solomon back from a stress reaction in his left foot that has sidelined him three gmes. UCLA can play as many as three players at a time who are 6-10 or taller, although they’re unlikely to do so against Cal because of matchup issues. While senior PG Lazeric Jones is the Bruins’ top scorer (and had a career-high 26 at Stanford), the team scores 45.4 percent of its points in the paint. They outscore their opponents by an average of nearly 10 points per game in the paint . . . Sophomore C Joshua Smith, considered a potential Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate before the season, continues to struggle. Out of shape when the season began, he averages 9.6 points and just 17.9 minutes per game. He has yet to play more than 22 minutes in any game, partly because of conditioning issues and partly because he is foul prone. He has collected three fouls or more in11 of the team’s 13 games . . . Going inside is probably a good idea given that UCLA ranks 10th in the Pac-10 in 3-point accuracy at 34.2 percent. One-time Cal recruit De’End Parker, a junior guard from City College of San Francisco, has missed the past 11 games due to patellar tendinitis.
THE SERIES: UCLA leads the all-time series 132-98. The teams split two games last season. Cal won 76-72 in overtime at Haas as Jorge Gutierrez scored a career-high 34 points. “That one hurt so bad,” Bruins center Joshua Smith told the Los Angeles Times. “I can hardly wait to play them there again.”
MISCELLANY: Jorge Gutierrez has 981 career points, 19 shy of becoming the 40th player in Cal history to reach 1,000 . . . UCLA is 0-6 in games it trails with five minutes to go . . . Cal is 10-0 at Haas Pavilion this season . . . Redshirt freshman G Alex Rossi, who has yet to play in a game for the Bears in a season-and-a-half because of a lower abdominal injury, dressed for the first time this season on Thursday, but did not see action.
TIPOFF: 1 p.m. Saturday at Haas Pavilion, Berkeley. TV: CSNBA. Radio: 910-AM.
Cal (11-3, 1-0 Pac-12)
|SF Allen Crabbe||6-6||So.||15.6||5.7|
|PF Harper Kamp||6-8||Sr.||9.2||5.6|
|PF David Kravish||6-9||Fr.||5.4||6.2|
|SG Jorge Gutierrez||6-3||Sr.||13.7||5.2|
|PG Justin Cobbs||6-2||So.||12.4||4.4*|
|G Brandon Smith||5-11||Jr.||4.6||3.3*|
|G Emerson Murray||6-2||So.||1.9||0.8|
|F Bak Bak||6-8||Jr.||2.1||1.5|
UCLA (7-6, 0-1 Pac-12)
|C Joshua Smith||6-10||So.||9.6||5.5|
|PF David Wear||6-10||So.||8.2||6.3|
|SG Tyler Lamb||6-5||So.||8.9||3.5|
|SG Jerime Anderson||6-2||Sr.||9.0||3.5*|
|PG Lazeric Jones||6-0||Sr.||14.2||3.6*|
|F Travis Wear||6-10||So.||10.0||4.8|
|G Norman Powell||6-3||Fr.||5.6||2.5|
|F Anthony Stover||6-10||So.||0.5||1.0|