Bears Knock Out Trigger-Happy Rebels

With Depleted Front Court, Cal Relies on Guards Crabbe And Gutierrez to Beat Ole Miss in NIT First Round

Photo: Allen Crabbe (left) scored 20 points in Cal's 77-74 win over Ole Miss. The freshman had five rebounds and four 3-pointers.
Amir Moghtaderi/Photo
Allen Crabbe (left) scored 20 points in Cal's 77-74 win over Ole Miss. The freshman had five rebounds and four 3-pointers.

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This morning, most of the nation will watch the early crop of NCAA Tournament games and get that "March" feeling that college basketball fans wait all year to experience.

But inside of Haas Pavilion on Wednesday night, it felt like November. Between the sparse midweek crowd, an unfamiliar non-conference opponent and appearances by the likes of Jeff Powers and Robert Thurman, the aura of playoff basketball hardly emanated.

But on the floor, both teams played like legitimate postseason squads and turned in playoff-worthy performances in the National Invitational Tournament first round.

Hosting a tough, athletic SEC squad in Ole Miss, the Cal men's basketball team turned in a gutty performance against the resilient Rebels, winning an exciting 77-74 contest.

Playing without starting center Markhuri Sanders-Frison, who dislocated his right shoulder in practice, the Bears dug deep into their bench, but managed another noteworthy effort and held off an athletic, shot-happy bunch of Rebels. Cal was also dealing with a flu-stricken Harper Kamp, but the junior center shrugged off his ailments to chalk up 11 points in 30 minutes. Kamp was spelled nicely by Bak Bak and Thurman, who both saw extended minutes with the two key big man limited.

When asked about learning of Kamp's sickness after losing Sanders-Frison in practice the day earlier, Bears coach Mike Montgomery even threw a bit of levity into the series of unfortunate events.

"I was thinkin' 'holy smokes,' that's not what we needed to hear" Montgomery said. "Markhuri was already going to be a huge loss because of his leadership and his inside presence ... Fortunately Bak and Robert did a pretty good job and we weren't losing any ground. We were able to stay and keep him out a little bit longer."

While his outside shot was not in peak form, Jorge Gutierrez led Cal with 25 points. Allen Crabbe was the Bears' most versatile scorer on the night, knocking down four 3-pointers and utilizing a running floater en route to 20 points for the night.

All-SEC First Team guard Chris Warren anchored Ole Miss with 23 points on 8-for-19 shooting. Montgomery put it lightly when he said that Warren "liked to shoot the ball" in the beginning of the week, as the diminutive guard hoisted an astonishing 14 3-pointers, sinking five of them.

A perimeter-reliant team, the Rebels shot 18 first half 3-pointers because Cal settled into a zone defense. Montgomery admitted after the game that he probably would have liked to have started with man, but because he did not have Sanders-Frison, the zone was designed as a way of limiting foul trouble and preserving energy.

Ole Miss did a significantly better job attacking the zone in the second half, which forced the Bears to switch their defense on a couple of occasions, but the Rebels could not ever tie the game or close the gap in the second half. Ole Miss got as close as one point, but coach Andy Kennedy was visibly pained by his team's frequent narrowly missed opportunities.

"When you put yourself in a position to win you need to find a way to make that winning play," Kennedy said. "We're one bounce of the ball, one key stop and one big shot away and then maybe things would be different."

The Bears have a quick turnaround and will play top-seeded Colorado on Friday night at 6:30 in Boulder, Colo.


Gabriel Baumgaertner covers men's basketball. Contact him at [email protected]

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