BERKELEY-After a 106-76 tune-up exhibition win against Sonoma State, the Cal basketball team tips off its 2010-11 season tonight at 7:30 PM against a Cal State Northridge team that returns just one starter from last year's 11-21 team.
OK, so for the Matadors, that inexperience may be a good thing. For Cal, though, this will be the first real-game action for the defending Pac-10 champion that lost four of five starters and almost all of its scoring.
"We had a good team last year," said head coach Mike Montgomery. "It's a situation where Jerome (Randle) played most of the minutes (at point guard)."
Instead of Randle running the point, Montgomery plans to go with a rotation of junior Jorge Gutierrez and sophomore Brandon Smith, who has transformed his body during the offseason and is now much more polished in running the Bears' offense.
"We're confident with Brandon. As his decision making gets better and better and as he understands what his responsibilities are, he'll get better and better," Montgomery said. "Brandon's going to have to play a lot for us, I think, because there are going to be a lot of times we want Jorge off the ball, and it may be that Brandon and Jorge may be better than having another group of people in. he's a tough kid, and he understands how to play the point, although, in their system in high school, he was very well-coached, but it was the Princeton system, which isn't the same as distributing the ball and running a set offense, which he's having to learn a little bit."
Northridge fell to UCLA in its season-opener by the tally of 83-50, but boasts one of the top defenders in the Big West Conference in Lenny Daniel, who posted a single-season record 44 blocks last year to lead the conference. Junior guard Vinnie McGhee drained 53 three-pointers last season to rank ninth in the conference, and provides an effective threat from the perimeter.
"They're not real big inside," Montgomery said. "They're a little lighter. They're quick. Their point guard is very quick. The wings are 6-5, both of them, and they're pretty aggressive, pretty active players."
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Daniel is the Matador's chief scoring threat inside, but he will have to contend with a bevy of Bears bigs that includes projected starters Harper Kamp (6-8, 245) and Markhuri Sanders-Frison (6-7, 265).
"They have five seniors and a couple junior college players, so they have some experience out there," Montgomery said. "UCLA ambushed them, just came out and really played hard, really played aggressive and they got off to a horrible start. Once they kind of settled down, they played pretty well. They turned the ball over too much trying to play full-court against (the Bruins), but they're very athletic."
Aside from Kamp, Sanders-Frison and Gutierrez[/db], Cal will start two true freshmen at the wings in four-star recruit Allen Crabbe and the free-wheeling shooter Gary Franklin.
"They'll throw a variety of defenses at us, trying to disrupt," Montgomery said. "They'll press, they'll zone-a couple different zones-and so they'll keep mixing up what they're doing defensively to try and get us off balance a little bit. It'll test us that way. They're pressuring, and what they're trying to do is create points for their offense. They're very quick. They're very aggressive, fairly long, fairly athletic, so even in the zone, they're not standing back passively. They're up into you aggressively in two different kinds of zones, and then they do pressure and drop back."
In last week's exhibition against the Seawolves, Crabbe led all scorers with 22 points and missed just one of seven shots, hitting 4-of-4 from beyond the arc and 6-of-6 from the charity stripe while adding three rebounds and an assist. Franklin netted 17 points and four assists, along with a trio of three-pointers.
Tonight, the Matadors will employ a pressure defense, overplaying in man in order to get on the top side and force Cal's young shooters to make mistakes.
"Allen does not make a lot of mistakes," Montgomery said. "He needs to be more aggressive. He had some really nice plays, and I think it bothers him when he misses a shot. In that particular game, they were able to get real good shots, but, as time goes on, people will try to take things away from them. We'll just try to move ahead, and each game will present a different scenario for us to try and learn from. I wouldn't expect them to have those types of games every game."
Northridge head coach Bobby Braswell is in his 15th season for the Matadors, and two years ago led his squad to a Big West regular-season conference title, a Big West Tournament crown and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The last time that the Bears met Northridge was the season before Braswell took over on the bench, during the 1994-5 campaign. Cal came out on top, 76-65 in southern California.