Cal sophomore Ricky Kreklow can barely believe he’ll play in an NCAA tournament game on Thursday against UNLV.
The transfer from Missouri has endured a season sabotaged by surgery on his right foot the first week of October. Three times since, he suffered setbacks.
“You kind of go from accepting the fact that you’re looking ahead to next year,” Kreklow said, “to the point where it was healed enough there really wasn’t any risk to injuring it again.”
Expected to be a starting guard this season, Kreklow instead has played a total of 118 minutes spread over seven games — two in November, two in December, one in January and now the Bears’ past two games.
“I feel badly for Rick,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said Wednesday. “He’s a tough kid, which is something we don’t necessarily have. He’s not anywhere close to where he would have been.”
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For years, Marcus Smart has heard the comparisons.
“It’s been Jason Kidd, Dwyane Wade — those two players,” the Oklahoma State freshman point guard said. “With my size, my ability to pass the ball and my IQ of the game, a lot of people mention that.”
Smart and the Cowboys (24-8) face Pac-12 regular-season champion Oregon (26-8) in an NCAA tournament opener Thursday at HP Pavilion — 20 years after Kidd, as a freshman point guard, led Cal to an upset of two-time defending national champion Duke and into the Sweet 16.
Oregon coach Dana Altman, whose Ducks played both teams this season, said Thursday’s NCAA tournament game between Cal and UNLV still is likely to be decided by the star players.
Both teams are improved, Altman said, but Cal’s Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs and Runnin’ Rebels star freshman Anthony Bennett are the difference-makers.
“Crabbe and Cobbs are tremendous competitors and awfully good,” Altman said Wednesday during news conference before Thursday’s games at HP Pavilion. “Getting those guys under control is essential to beating them.”
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.
Here are five players to watch Thursday in NCAA tournament games at HP Pavilion:
— ANTHONY BENNETT, UNLV: Projected as an NBA draft lottery pick, the 6-8, 240-pound freshman forward averages 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds, including a 25-point, 13-rebound performance in the Runnin’ Rebels’ 76-75 win at Cal on Dec. 9. He was the Mountain West Freshman of the Year and earned a spot on the five-man all-league team after posting 13 games of 20 points or more.
— MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS, Syracuse: A 6-6 sophomore point guard, Williams was third in the NCAA averaging 7.7 assists per game. Voted the Big East Conference’s most improved player and a second-team all-conference selection, Williams also averaged 12.0 points and 4.8 rebounds. He had 27 double-figure scoring games and 11 outings with double-digit assists, including 16 in one game.
— ALLEN CRABBE, Cal: A 6-6 junior guard, Crabbe was Player of the Year in the Pac-12 after averaging a league-best 18.7 points to go with 6.0 rebounds per game. Crabbe had 15 games of at least 20 points, including a signature 31-point effort in Cal’s win at Arizona, in which he made 12 of 15 shots.
— KAREEM JAMAR, Montana: The Grizzles’ 6-2 junior wing was the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year and a two-time conference tournament MVP. He had 39 points in two games for Montana last weekend in the Big Sky tourney and has averaged 18.7 points the past seven games. For the year, he contributes 14.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
— MARCUS SMART, Oklahoma State: One of the nation’s most difficult matchups, Smart is a 6-4, 225-pound freshman bull of a point guard who earned Big 12 Conference Player of the Year honors. NBAdraft.net projects him as the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft. Smart is a stat sheet filler, averaging 15.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.9 steals. He had 10 20-point games and 12 games with at least four steals.
As Cal’s point guard but also the team’s No. 2 scorer, Justin Cobbs says he finally is starting to find his balance.
“The coaches have given me a lot of confidence to just go out and play,” Cobbs said. “I feel like a totally different player — no stress, no thinking, just playing basketball. My whole focus is at the end of the game, hopefully we have the most points.”
The Golden Bears (20-11) take on UNLV (25-9) in the NCAA tournament game Thursday at HP Pavilion. It’s a rematch of a Dec. 9 game in Berkeley in which the Runnin’ Rebels had one more point at the end in a 76-75 victory.
Both teams are different three months later, and the difference in Cobbs is he better understands his role as combination scorer/facilitator for the Cal offense. He’s put behind him a difficult midseason stretch.
The strangest game was Jan. 12 at home against Washington State, when Cobbs played 40 minutes and attempted a total of two shots.
“I guess I was a little confused in that role,” Cobbs said of his combo guard status. “It was just me being unselfish and wanting the other guys involved. Sometimes your team needs you to do certain things.”
One of the things the Bears need from Cobbs is scoring.
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Columnist Mark Purdy says Cal coach Mike Montgomery is just as “geeked” for this year’s NCAA tournament as he was for his first at Stanford 24 years ago.
Check out columnist Monte Poole’s interview with Jason Kidd, looking back 20 years to Cal’s 1993 upset of two-time defending national champion Duke and the Bears’ run into the NCAA’s Sweet 16.
Without any doubt, the biggest moment in Cal basketball since the Pete Newell era.
The Cal women’s basketball team received a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and will play Fresno State in the first round on Saturday at Lubbock, Texas.
The No. 2 seed is the highest in program history. The Golden Bears’ previous high seed was third in 2008. They were a No. 8 seed in the tournament last year.
Cal (28-3) will face No. 15 Fresno State at 1:20 p.m.
Stanford (31-2), which earned a No. 1 seed for the fourth straight year, opens the tournament Sunday at 2:20 p.m. against 16th-seeded Tulsa (17-16) in the first round at Maples Pavilion. Michigan and Villanova, both 21-10, will meet in the other first-round game at Stanford. The winners will play Tuesday for a berth in the Sweet 16 in Spokane.
Barring any upsets Stanford and Cal are on a collision course for their third meeting of the season. The schools split their Pac-12 Conference games this season. The local rivals could meet April 1 in Spokane for a shot at a Final Four bid.
Click here for staff writer Elliott Almond’s story on how Cal & Stanford are on a collision course for the Spokane regional final.
Nothing is settled, but for perhaps the first time on Monday coach Sonny Dykes suggested a leader in the quarterback battle.
“Looks a little bit like Zach Kline is starting to get a little bit more settled in,” Dykes said of the redshirt freshman from San Ramon Valley High. “I’ve seen him kind of make a move here over the last two practices.”
Kline, freshman Jared Goff and junior Austin Hinder have battled throughout the spring and shared reps. Cal has two more practices — Wednesday and Friday — before closing down for the off-season with its spring game Saturday at Memorial Stadium, beginning at 4 p.m.
Asked if he has any clarity on the quarterback picture, Dykes initially said, “I’m liking what I’m seeing from all of them.”
Then he singled out Kline.
“His reads are happening a little faster, seems like he’s a little more accurate on his mid-range throws than he was,” Dykes said. “I saw some of that in the scrimmage Saturday and it carried over to practice today.
“I think he’s improved and getting better and better. It’s good to see that.”
Cal senior Bill Tyndall, penciled in as the starting right offensive tackle, will undergo surgery Wednesday after breaking his left ankle Saturday during a scrimmage.
Tyndall will be out about four months, coach Sonny Dykes said.
Dykes said the Bears likely will used as many as four different players at the position through Saturday, when workouts end with the spring game. “We’re going to experiment a little bit and move some guys around and see how they respond this week,” Dykes said.
The Bears’ 12th of 15 spring workouts wasn’t their best, Dykes.
“I thought we were sluggish,” he said. “Didn’t have the same bounce we’ve been having. Look like they were a little worn out. We’re a little bit beat up.”
Nineteen players sat out practice Monday due to health issues.
“The good thing was we were able to come out and have a functional practice and get better and look good in some ways.”