UC Irvine-California Preview
California may have exceeded expectations last season, but the 24th-ranked Golden Bears won't get the opportunity to surprise opponents in 2011-12 with a loaded roster.
California opens the season at Haas Pavilion against a young UC Irvine team on Friday night.
The Golden Bears are returning three players that ranked among the top 13 in the Pac-10 in scoring last season. Despite having lost its top four scorers from 2009-10, that team finished a respectable 18-15 and reached the second round of the NIT.
Expectations are particularly high for senior guard Jorge Gutierrez. After averaging 5.1 points his first two seasons, Gutierrez was one of the conference's top players in 2010-11, averaging 14.6 points, 4.5 assists and 1.6 steals.
"I don't want to put the hex on him, but I think Jorge has a chance to play in the NBA," said coach Mike Montgomery, who spent two seasons coaching the Golden State Warriors. "People aren't going to look at him at first blush and say that because he doesn't do this or doesn't do that. But when I put him on the team after all that, I said, 'God, dang, he's everywhere, he's doing everything.' He ties the whole thing together."
Montgomery, who is back coaching the Golden Bears despite recently undergoing treatment for bladder cancer, is just as excited by what senior forward Harper Kamp and sophomore guard Allen Crabbe bring to the table.
Kamp was coming off knee surgery last season, but he still averaged 14.2 points and 5.6 rebounds. Crabbe averaged 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, earning Pac-10 freshman of the year honors.
"You've got guys that are veterans and should know how to lead. That should help everybody else," Montgomery said.
Junior guard Brandon Smith is Cal's other returning starter, but he is being challenged for playing time by Justin Cobbs. Cobbs, who sat out last season after transferring from Minnesota, had 17 points and four assists in 25 minutes in an exhibition win over UC San Diego on Nov. 2.
"I'm just out there trying to contribute in any way possible," he said.
While the Bears had little trouble scoring last season, their defense was suspect. Cal gave up 72.2 points per game - second-most in the conference.
The Golden Bears don't figure to get much of a test from the Anteaters, who went 13-19 last season and now feature eight freshmen and no seniors on their roster.
Their top returning scorer is Michael Wilder, a junior who averaged 9.5 points and 5.7 rebounds in 2010-11.
Adam Folker also brings some experience. The junior forward missed last season with hand and hip injuries after averaging 2.9 points and 4.2 rebounds in 2009-10.
"We know that we are a young team," coach Russell Turner said. "There's some disadvantage in that clearly, but there are also some advantages in that because I have good energy in this group. This group doesn't really know what's out there for them but in a lot of ways, that is really positive."
Cal leads the series 4-2, winning 65-57 in the last meeting in 2003. UC Irvine won the previous contest in 2000, but they have dropped five straight against ranked opponents by an average of 25 points.