Louisville Poses Big Threat in Opening Round

Photo: Senior Theo Robertson and the Bears will face a new test tonight in Samardo Samuels, Louisville's 6-foot-9 leading scorer. Cal will be at a significant size disadvantage in the post.
Anna Hiatt/File
Senior Theo Robertson and the Bears will face a new test tonight in Samardo Samuels, Louisville's 6-foot-9 leading scorer. Cal will be at a significant size disadvantage in the post.

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The Cal men's basketball team played against numerous different styles and strategies during the regular season.

It saw Oregon State's suffocating 1-3-1 defense and Arizona State's mysterious matchup zone. It saw a run-and-gun team in Oregon and a dynamic duo at Stanford. It saw quick point guards like Isaiah Thomas and lights-out shooters like Klay Thompson.

But did it see anyone like Louisville forward Samardo Samuels?

"Not really," Bears coach Mike Montgomery said. "He's tough inside because he's so big. It wasn't a year for great big guys in our league."

Unfortunately for eighth-seeded Cal, it will see a dominant post player in Samuels when it faces the ninth-seeded Cardinals in the first round of the NCAA Tournament tonight at approximately 7 p.m., at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla.

Samuels, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound sophomore, is Louisville's leading scorer with 15.3 points per game. He is efficient from the field at 51.8 percent and also shoots a respectable 70.8 percent from the free-throw line.

Needless to say, containing the Jamaica native could be crucial for the Bears (23-10). And it won't be easy.

"He's a load," Montgomery said. "He posts very hard, which, given our size constraints, will cause us problems. We don't have a lot of depth there."

The assignment will probably be shuffled between starting forward Jamal Boykin, 7-foot-3 center Max Zhang and Markhuri Sanders-Frison, but the team has struggled to keep its frontcourt intact.

Zhang has seen only limited action after suffering a collapsed lung in practice on Feb. 22, while Sanders-Frison has been restricted by a sore back for much of the year. Harper Kamp, who averaged almost 20 minutes per game in 2008-09, missed the entire season to recover from offseason knee surgery.

Cal's rotation of post players took another hit Wednesday, when it announced that sophomore forward Omondi Amoke has been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. He did not make the trip to Jacksonville.

The suspension seems to spell even greater opportunity for Louisville (20-12), whose roster includes 6-foot-10 Sacramento product Terrence Jennings.

When Montgomery breaks down the Cardinals, though, he doesn't just see big men. He sees results. Louisville, after all, defeated top-seeded Syracuse during conference play in the Big East -- twice.

"Knowing first-hand how good Syracuse is and the fact that the league, game in and game out, is so difficult," Montgomery said, "certainly they're battle-tested."

The Bears, meanwhile, were sliced by the Orange, 95-73, during a preseason tournament in November. They would most likely meet Duke -- the No. 1 seed in the South regional -- with a win against coach Rick Pitino's team.

Montgomery just hopes that Cal can make up for what it lacks in size with its dangerous perimeter offense.

"We're not as big as we'd like to be," he said. "So, we've had to go to a different style of playing, just out of necessity. When we're shooting the ball and able to move the ball, we can be pretty tough."


Contact Jeff Goodman at [email protected]

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