Arizona Has History of Raising Bears

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Instead of catching up on the piles of history reading about the American West, I'll use this space to impart some history myself.

As Cal dives into the second round robin of Pac-10 play against the Arizona schools tonight, it is worth taking a look back to some recent editions of this series.

In a way, they have become landmark games for the program over the past couple years.

Flash back to early January of 2009. The Bears had lost a pair of NBA-caliber players, and were picked to return to the conference cellar after a ninth-place finish. Yet there they were in Berkeley, sweeping teams with the star power of (college version) Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger and James Harden.

The victories moved Mike Montgomery's unheralded club to 13-2, starting an eventual return to the NCAA postseason.

On we go to Feb. 25 and 27 of last year - not that many people need help remembering what happened there. Cal trounced the Arizona schools at Haas Pavilion by a combined 40 points, a two-game stretch that culminated in the Bears' first Pac-10 title since 1960.

Fast forward to earlier this month in Tucson, Ariz. Cal was again far from relevant after dropping its conference opener and arriving one player thinner. What ensued was a near-upset of the favored Wildcats, and an eventual road split in the desert.

Finally, we come to today.

Am I implying that another conference title is around the corner? No. But once again, the Bears - now 5-4 in Pac-10 play and winners of three straight - can use a home stand against the Arizonas to make some headway in the Pac-10.

"We've matured a lot," center Markhuri Sanders-Frison said on Saturday after Cal's victory over Oregon.

"We've played 21 games, and we've come a long way ... I'm just so proud of my teammates. We're playing hard in practice, playing hard in games, and it's paying off."

It's hard not to see the Bears' progress over this past month.

A more assertive Allen Crabbe is blossoming before our very eyes, averaging 17.4 points in his last eight games and emerging as a dependable rebounder. Brandon Smith has stabilized - Montgomery's words, not mine - the team's offense at point guard.

Meanwhile, Cal's three main upperclassmen - Sanders-Frison, Harper Kamp and Jorge Gutierrez - have aided the squad both in the stat department, as well as with their intangibles. Once valuable role players, all three have become go-to scorers for the Bears.

"Guys have really learned to play their roles, and are figuring out where they're comfortable," Kamp said during Tuesday's media press conference.

It wasn't supposed to be this way, of course.

2010-2011 began as an experiment, as a transition for players who were thrust into leadership positions. It was to be a learning experience for a youthful roster. Instead, 2010-2011 is bringing some valuable dividends, and this team is clicking at just the right time.

Tonight, against two squads they have already played tough, Cal has a chance to continue its' improvement and accomplish Sanders-Frison's main goal: "Playing hard and surprising a lot of people."

Okay, I really need to get back to my reading now.

Tags: CAL MEN'S BASKETBALL, MIKE MONTGOMERY


Avoid your reading and give Ed a history lesson at [email protected]



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