A bad loss for Cal on Sunday. No other way to put it.
The Bears fell 67-62 to Harvard, just their fifth defeat ever to an Ivy League team.
I was at AT&T Park covering the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, so I did not see the Cal-Harvard game. But here are a few details and conclusions:
The Bears dropped to 8-4 headed into Thursday’s Pac-12 opener at UCLA, which has won five in a row, including a win over a tough Missouri team on Friday night.
Cal’s first three losses were to opponents (UNLV, Creighton) or at places (Wisconsin) that were understandable.
The Crimson is a team Cal should beat regardless of the circumstances.
And there were circumstances:
— Senior sixth man Brandon Smith missed the game after suffering a concussion
in practice the week before against Prairie View. He would have been valuable defensively against a Harvard team that outscored the Bears 30-0 from the 3-point arc.
— Sophomore guard Ricky Kreklow missed his eighth game in 12, bothered not only by his sore foot but also an ankle sprain he sustained in practice.
— Sophomore forward Christian Behrens, two years removed from tearing his ACL as a senior in high school, tore it again last week and is out for the season.
So, yes, the Bears had manpower issues, and some difficult matchups in the backcourt against an opponent that starts four guards.
Even so. Cal entered the game rated No. 40 nationally, according to RealTimeRPI.com. Harvard was No. 107.
Cal tied a school record with 11 blocked shots — five of them by Richard Solomon — but couldn’t defend the perimeter and could not assert itself in the paint sufficiently to take advantage of its size edge.
Allen Crabbe played 40 minutes and scored 27 points to lead the Bears. Justin Cobbs had 15 points, but five turnovers, and David Kravish contributed 14 points. The rest of the team combined to shoot 2 for 13.
The Bears were picked third in the Pac-12 preseason media poll. Wonder where folks believe they fit now?
I’ll make my picks in a few days, but I can tell you I cannot imagine this team, with its limitations and personnel issues, finishing in the top three or four.
Maybe they fix some things, and they have the right coach to perhaps get that done.
But Mike Montgomery may have trouble getting his thin big men to be more physical or able to finish at the rim. And if Smith or Kreklow cannot play, the Bears will struggle again vs. teams that go small and attack from the perimeter.
Going from Harvard to UCLA is apples to oranges. Different personnel, different challenges, for sure a different venue.
But it makes you wonder: If the Bears couldn’t deal with the Crimson, how are they going to slow down Shabazz Muhammad?