Cal goes back to work against Aggies

BERKELEY-Head coach Mike Montgomery didn't waste much time getting down to business on Tuesday, asking the media if anyone wants his offensive game plan for today's game with UC Davis, given that his Cal basketball team scored just five points in the first half against Notre Dame last Friday. Asked if he knew going in with this young team that there would be days like this, he came back with his famous wit.
"Days like what, today? Tuesday? Every week we have one of those Tuesdays, doggone it," he smiled. "I wouldn't expect that ever to happen, but it did. At the same time, we turned around and scored 39 in the second half. You take the Wisconsin team, they had 51. Notre Dame's good, but the thing that stands out is you have five points, and that just seems to be the focal point, but we were 2-for-25. The ball just wasn't going down. We lost confidence, obviously, and you kind of get concerned. Jorge didn't have a real good game and when our big three veterans don't have really good games, I think it's tough on the young kids."
Yes, this Bears team will have some growing pains, with five freshmen on the roster, but there's only one way to iron out those wrinkles: playing the games.
"The thing for us is, we've got to learn, Montgomery said. "We've got to figure out that some of the stuff that guys were trying to do don't work, that they can't do that, that they have to get better. I mean, we were driving the basket and people were stacked up to take charges. That's something we need to learn from: How do you do that? Again, it was Notre Dame primarily, but it was also Boston College, where you're talking about seniors who have played in really good leagues that have been doing this for four years, and they know how to do it. Hopefully, our guys will keep their eyes open and learn from it."
One player who has a lot of learning to do is true freshman shooting guard Gary Franklin. Though the 6-6er out of Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei is fourth on the team with eight points per game and second with 6.2 boards, his shooting percentage leaves a bit to be desired. In his three games in Orlando, Fla., as part of the Old Spice Classic, Franklin went 8-for-36 from the field and 6-of-24 from three-point land.
"The person who's shooting the ball the most can't have the worst percentage," Montgomery said. "I think he got frustrated, and he's one of those guys that always feels like the next shot is going to go in, but the reality of it is that we've got to get better shots so that we can get some confidence, so that he can get some confidence. He's learning what he can and can't do. He drove the basket a few times and it's just not something he's going to be able to do, under the circumstances. But, at the same time, in the Temple game, late, bang-bang, he hits a couple and gets us ahead. We've just got to continue to work with him on getting him in a rhythm. He's always been streaky. When he makes two, in his mind, then he's going to make the third. Sometimes he'll take a shot that's not as good, thinking that it's just going to go in, but it generally doesn't work that way."
The learning curve will continue tonight at Haas Pavilion, as the Bears (3-2) face the Aggies in a midweek tune up at 7:30 PM before facing a resurgent Iowa State team this Saturday in Ames, Iowa.
UC Davis is 3-4 on the year, having won its last two games against Sacramento State and Seattle, hammering the Redhawks 80-58.
Senior guard Joe Harden reached 1,000 career points against Seattle after 16 points and a 10-for-10 effort from the free-throw line.
Harden is in his third season in Davis after spending one year in South Bend, Ind., playing for Notre Dame. He now has 1,007 points as an Aggie.
Junior guard Eddie Miller recorded a career-high 20 points against Seattle to lead all scorers, shooting 6-of-9 from the field and 3-of-5 from three-point land. Miller was a part of the Cal program for two years before deciding to transfer after the 2008-09 season. So far, it's working out for Miller, as he is averaging 8 points and 3.6 boards per game.
Freshman Mike Kurtz started his second straight game, tallying six points, six boards and four blocks. The other four starters have started in all seven games this season. For the Bears, the starters have remained the same throughout the young season: Franklin, true freshman guard Allen Crabbe, junior point Jorge Gutierrez, senior center Markhuri Sanders-Frison and junior forward Harper Kamp. The presence of the elder statesmen in Sanders-Frison, Kamp and Gutierrez cannot be understated, especially given the lack of assuredness at times of the freshman class.
"We can play, but we're a little bit fragile," Montgomery admitted. "I think that we have to be able to get confidence from our veteran players, and that's where we really need them to hang together. I think both Harper and Jorge admittedly got kind of down on themselves in the Notre Dame game and kind of disappeared a little bit. We need them. We just need them to play well and be a steadying influence for us."
After scoring a career-high 25 points against New Mexico the last time the Bears played at home, Kamp largely disappeared this past weekend in Orlando. In the loss to the Irish, Kamp went just 3-of-10 shooting with one block and one assist.
Gutierrez went 3-of-13 for just seven points, tallying four assists and turning the ball over four times.
"That was one of the first things that me and Jorge talked about, after the Notre Dame game," Kamp said. "We were both caught up in the mistakes that we were making, and I think that we let down the rest of the guys, especially the younger guys who needed some guidance at that point. As a leader out on the floor, I knew the situation we were in and I didn't go about it the right way, so that affected everybody."
Kamp, though, is ready to get back to the basics starting tonight, as Cal can likely get its confidence back beating up on an old stand-by: The Bears have beat the Aggies all 30 times the two squads have squared off, the last time coming during the 1986-87 campaign, when Cal trounced UC Davis 90-71.
Aside from a brief weekend road trip out to visit the Cyclones, the Bears play their next six games at home, a welcome sight after a grueling road trip that saw the team take red-eye commercial flights, cram 6-foot-plus frames into middle seats on packed planes, deal with a three-hour time change and lack a regular schedule doe to odd television game times.
"From the start, the goal is always just to get better every game and every practice, so definitely in our time here at home, we want to get a little confidence, build some energy and just continue to improve on the foundations that we've already built," Kamp said. "Being at home will make that a little bit easier, I think, especially for some younger guys. We've got a lot of work, but I think we can build this thing up before the Pac-10 (schedule)."
A win over the Aggies would give Montgomery 50 wins in 74 games as the Bears' head coach, faster than any coach at Cal since Nibs Price won 50 of his first 60 games from 1924-25 through the start of the 1928-29 season. Montgomery is also four wins away from his 600th career collegiate head coaching victory.
• True freshman sniper Alex Rossi, as reported yesterday by BearTerritory, is out indefinitely with a nagging groin injury.
"I'm not sure he's going to make it back," Montgomery said. "If that were the case, yes, he'd redshirt.
"We're going to try and get him back, but we're just not sure if that's going to work. I'm not going to go into, medically, what it is. He's not able to do, he can't get down in the stance, he can't move, and when he starts doing stuff, it gets pretty painful, so we're trying to calm it down, see if we can't rehab and get him back. We've got to get it calmed down, first, before we can do that. Coming off the plane, sitting there for those hours, it was hurting."