Cal vs. Arkansas: Monday, noon, ESPN2
The landscape changes Monday for the Cal basketball team. The competition at the Maui Invitational is serious.
How serious? Well, the eight teams entered in the three-day event have a combined record of 30-0. Three of them are ranked in the AP Top-25.
“The four games we played, we should have won,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery, whose Bears (4-0) face Arkansas (3-0) in the opening round of the Maui Invitational. “Now all these teams are solid. Some are really good, some could be really good.”
Montgomery is familiar with Arkansas coach Mike Anderson. He was at Missouri in 2008-09 when the Tigers ran Cal off the court in a 93-66 rout at Columbia, Mo.
Back at his alma mater, where he played for Nolan Richardson, Anderson utilizes the same “40 minutes of hell” approach to full-court pressure.
The Razorbacks have forced 61 turnovers their first three games and allowed their opponents to shoot just 28.8 percent from the 3-point arc. They are averaging 88 points per game.
“We spent this week on the track running 40-yard dashes, trying to get back on defense to prepare for Arkansas,” Montgomery said. “We know we’re up against it. No way we can simulate the kind of athletes we’re going to face in this tournament specifically (Monday).
“So it was a difficult prep trying to get the guys on the bench to be about three steps quicker and about two inches taller and run about five steps quicker than they do. But we tried.”
Cal will play Tuesday against either No. 9 Syracyse (4-0) or Minnesota (4-0). Senior point guard Justin Cobbs began his college career at Minnesota, but the coaches and players knew are all gone, and he’d prefer a shot at avenging the Bears’ NCAA tournament loss last season to Syracuse.
“I’m eager to play against that zone (defense) again,” he said.
First, the Bears must get past Arkansas. The Razorbacks are led by 6-foot-6, 237-pound junior forward Alandise Harris (28.3 ppg) and 6-6 sophomore guard Michael Qualls (16.3 ppg).
Five Cal freshmen will get their first taste of high-level Division I competition this week.
“They’re young and naive, they’re not going to know until they see it,” Montgomery said. “We’re still in the process of figuring out how hard we’ve got to play and we’re not there yet. The older guys know.”
Cobbs said he’s not concerned about freshman guard Jabari Bird, who is averaging 13.5 points through four games. Cobbs said Bird won’t be wide-eyed playing on ESPN.
“He knows what kind of player he is,” Cobbs said. “All the exposure for him and the team comes with the team winning and him producing. He has no problem doing that.”