TIPOFF: 4:27 p.m. Thursday at HP Pavilion in San Jose. TV/Radio: truTV/910-AM.
When push came to shove this season, a Cal basketball team without much innate aggression learned to give as much as it takes.
Rediscovering their physical side after back-to-back defeats will be critical when the Golden Bears open NCAA Tournament play Thursday afternoon against UNLV at HP Pavilion.
“We have to be the aggressor from the beginning,” sophomore forward David Kravish said. “That’s how we went on the run that got us to this point. Whether they were bigger, faster or could shoot better than us, we kept them moving backward while we kept moving forward.”
The lesson of aggression was not easily absorbed by the Bears (20-11), who lost 76-75 at home to the Runnin’ Rebels (25-9) on Dec. 9 in Berkeley when Quintrell Thomas converted an airball into the game-winning putback.
Strong and fast, UNLV will test Cal with defensive pressure and aggressive offensive rebounding. The Rebels boast 250 steals and 197 blocked shots and will work hard to impose their will.
“I don’t think we have physical kids by nature,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “It’s hard for them to change the way they are naturally.”
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ABOUT THE RUNNIN’ REBELS: UNLV is 23rd in the RPI computer ratings, thanks partly to playing in the top-ranked Mountain West Conference, partly thanks to a nonconference record that includes a 76-75 win at Cal and losses to Oregon and North Carolina. … UNLV will have two players available for Cal who had no impact in the first meeting. Junior F Mike Moser played just 5 minutes on Dec. 9 before dislocating his elbow. Khem Birch, a transfer from Pitt, wasn’t yet eligible. He recently was named MWC Defensive Player of the Year. Along with all-MWC first-team pick and conference freshman of the year Anthony Bennett, and 6-9 senior F Quintrell Thomas, who had the game-winning putback vs. Cal last time, the Rebels will challenge Cal with a physical and athletic frontcourt. The Rebels have two dangerous shooters in freshman Katin Reinhardt and sophomore Bryce DeJean-Jones, and senior PG Anthony Marshall has more than 1,200 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in his career.
THE SERIES: UNLV leads 5-1, including a 76-75 win over the Bears in Berkeley on Dec. 9. Cal missed 13 free throws, turned the ball over 13 times and allowed UNLV 13 offensive rebounds in the loss. The Runnin’ Rebels also beat Cal 85-68 in Las Vegas last season. Cal’s only win in the series was a 73-55 victory in Las Vegas in Mike Montgomery’s fifth game as the Bears’ coach on Nov. 28, 2008.
CAL IN NCAA TOURNAMENT: This is Cal’s 18th appearance in the NCAAs, its 13th since 1990. Cal is 19-17 all-time in the NCAAs, winning the national title in 1959 and returning to the Final Four in ’60. The Bears are playing in the tournament for the fourth time in five seasons under Montgomery, and are 1-3 in three previous trips. Since 1990, Cal has reached the Sweet 16 round twice — in 1993 and ’97. The Bears are 11-6 in opening-round NCAA games.
CAL RECORDS AT NCAA: The Bears’ single-game scoring record in the NCAA tournament is 28 points by Lamond Murray in 1993 vs. Duke. Single-game rebounds record: 16 by Darrall Imhoff in
1059 1959 vs. Cincinnati. Single-game assists record: 14 by Jason Kidd in 1993 vs. Duke. Single-game steals: 6 by A.J. Diggs in 2003 vs. N.C. State.
ETC: Allen Crabbe remains No. 10 on Cal’s career scoring list with 1,510 points. Next up: Brian Hendrick (1990-93) with 1,556. … Cal is limiting opponents to 39.6 percent from the field, the lowest mark by the Bears’ opponents’ since 1960. … Cal has blocked a school-record 147 shots, 12 more than the previous record, set in 1996-97. … Cal is 6-6 against teams in this year’s NCAA tournament.
WHAT’S NEXT: It’s win or go home. A victory would send the Bears into a Saturday matchup against either Syracuse or Montana.
Cal (20-11, 12-6 Pac-12)
|SG Allen Crabbe||6-6||Jr.||18.7||6.0|
|PF Richard Solomon||6-10||Jr.||8.4||6.6|
|PF David Kravish||6-9||So.||8.1||6.9|
|PG Justin Cobbs||6-2||Jr.||15.5||4.8*|
|SG Tyrone Wallace||6-3||Fr.||7.2||4.5|
|G Brandon Smith||5-11||Sr.||2.6||2.0*|
|C Robert Thurman||6-10||Sr.||4.5||3.6|
|G Ricky Kreklow||6-6||So.||4.0||2.4|
UNLV (25-9, 10-6 Mountain West)
|PF Anthony Bennett||6-8||Fr.||16.1||8.1|
|SF Mike Moser||6-8||Jr.||7.2||6.0|
|SG Katin Reinhardt||6-5||Fr.||10.1||2.0|
|SG Bryce DeJean-Jones||6-5||So.||10.1||4.5|
|PG Anthony Marshall||6-3||Sr.||10.5||5.8*|
|F Khem Birch||6-9||So.||7.2||5.7|
|G Justin Hawkins||6-3||Sr.||5.0||2.6|
|F Quintrell Thomas||6-8||Sr.||3.8||3.6|