Bears Travel to Face Future Conference Foe

Photo: Jorge Gutierrez scored 25 points and made two clutch free throws with 14.8 seconds remaining in Wednesday's 77-74 victory over Ole Miss. The junior also had six assists.
Emma Lantos/File
Jorge Gutierrez scored 25 points and made two clutch free throws with 14.8 seconds remaining in Wednesday's 77-74 victory over Ole Miss. The junior also had six assists.

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Featuring a pair of flights, two games in four days and a key injury, Cal's Washington road trip was one to forget this year.

The Bears' upcoming road may be even more grueling.

Just two days after gutting out a victory over Ole Miss, Cal (18-14, 10-8 in the Pac-10) squares off against Colorado at 6:30 p.m., at the Coors Event Center.

The team flew out to Boulder, Colo. last night with its starting center inactive and leading scorer Harper Kamp battling the flu.

"(The Buffaloes) are good and it is a tough turnaround for us," Montgomery said after Wednesday night's opening round victory at Haas Pavillon.

"This is worse than a Seattle to Pullman deal, because of the distance. I would have been much more comfortable with a Saturday or Sunday game."

Even more challening than the circumstances will be his team's opponent: a talented and extremely motivated squad in No. 1 seed Colorado. Montgomery believes this year's NIT field contains schools that are superior to some NCAA participants, and the Bears' future Pac-12 rival is a perfect example.

Steaming from a Big Dance snub - despite a season sweep of Kansas State and a home upset of Texas - the Buffaloes (22-13, 8-8 in the Big 12) took their frustration out with a 88-74 drubbing of Texas Southern to open up their NIT play.

They present an especially tough matchup for a short-handed Cal squad. Under first-year head coach Tad Boyle, Colorado is thriving in an up-tempo offense that pours in 79.8 points per contest - good for third best in its conference, behind only Kansas and Missouri.

Boyle's squad is paced by a pair of explosive guards in Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, who combine for nearly 40 points each night. The 6-foot-6 Burks, who is considered a first-round NBA talent, leads the Big 12 in scoring at 20.3 points per game.

"There is no question it will be a tough contest, especially with them coming into the Pac-10 next year," Montgomery said.

A big key tonight for Montgomery will be finding some added scoring from the bench to keep pace with the high-octaine Buffs - especially if one of Cal's go-to options suffer an off-night.

Jeff Powers, Robert Thurman, Bak Bak and Emerson Murray all contributed valuable minutes against the Rebels, but their role mostly involved spelling the starters and keeping them out of foul trouble. Murray came up big with gritty defense against Ole Miss' leading scorer, Chris Warren, but the Bears' four reserves finished with just nine points between them.

"The bench gave us a lift, and some rest," Jorge Gutierrez said. "The rest was more important. They played hard and they played smart."

One also can expect the Bears, like they did against the Rebels, to come out in a zone defense - simply to save bodies on Friday evening. Forward Richard Solomon will be especially valuable for rebounding; he appeared visibly fatigued Wednesday after logging a career-high 28 minutes in place of the injured Markhuri Sanders-Frison.

"Obviously Richard hasn't played those minutes, as he cramped every muscle in his body," Montgomery said. "It was a pretty gutsy performance given the circumstances."


Ed Yevelev covers men's basketball. Contact him at [email protected]

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