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March 17, 2011

Bears move on to second-round showdown with Colorado

BERKELEY -- Sweating profusely, dog tired and sore, Cal junior forward Harper Kamp took a pass from freshman Emerson Murray from right to left across the paint with 26 seconds left in the second half against Ole Miss.

He set his feet, and buried a mid-range jumper. Even with a nasty bout of the flu, and without his partner in crime Markhuri Sanders-Frison -- felled yesterday by a dislocated right shoulder -- Kamp still scored a gutsy 11 points as the Bears came away with a 77-74 first-round NIT win over the visiting Rebels.

"We felt like, inside, (Sanders-Frison's) presence, they might zone us and we felt like we could run a double low post with big size, which you really can't do with Bak (Bak) and Richard (Solomon)," said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery. "So, we were concerned about that, but there was nothing we could do, and then we come in, in the morning, and the trainer says that Harper's in health service with IVs stuck in both arms and he had the flu throwing up. I'm thinking, 'My goodness, now what?' He felt a little bit better by noon, although he didn't look very good. We went through our walkthrough, and by the end of it, he kind of just stood there after the walkthrough and he was deathly pale. We weren't sure what we were going to get. He felt a little bit better, had a little food, and we rested him on either side of a time out."

What Montgomery got was workmanlike efforts out of both Kamp and Richard Solomon -- who played a season-high 20 minutes -- as well as the one veteran leader left standing: junior guard Jorge Gutierrez.

"We tried to stay as positive as we could," Gutierrez said of the double-blow of losing Sanders-Frison and having an ailing Kamp. "We know we need them, but we've got to play. We just stayed positive, and kept working hard."

Gutierrez scored a game-high 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting and 9-of-9 from the line, relying far more on his slashing game than his outside shot, abandoning it early in the second half after missing his three first-half treys..

With Kamp weakened and Sanders-Frison out, freshman Allen Crabbe and Gutierrez took over the scoring load, combining for 28 points before the break. Gutierrez shot 7-of-12 from the field and 3-of-3 from the charity stripe, but could not find his stroke from beyond the arc, missing all four of his attempts.

"His leadership really comes in a quiet sort of way," Montgomery said of Gutierrez. "I was really happy to see him get off to a good start, because if he doesn't make some plays early, who knows? If gets discouraged, then the rest of the team thinks, 'Well, Jorge's not doing much.' Allen was pretty steady, but he missed some shots I thought he normally would get down. He still ends up with 20, but he could have had more."

With the Bears (18-14) up 15-8 with 16:37 left in the first half, Montgomery used the first media time out to pull Kamp in favor of Bak Bak. During the time that Kamp was out, Cal stretched the lead to 11 before the 6-foot-8 forward came back in.

"He'd only played 3:50 when we got him out, and fortunately, Bak and Robert Thurman and those guys did a really good job," Montgomery said. "We weren't losing any ground, so we were able to keep him out a bit longer. We were concerned about (Kamp) hydrating and things like that. Obviously, Richard has not played those kids of minutes, and he starts cramping every muscle in his body, just from playing a normal game, but we got a pretty good performance out of those guys. We didn't give much up, and fortunately, Jorge was good and Crabbe was good. It was a pretty gutsy performance, given the circumstances."

The Bears frustrated Ole Miss (20-14) with zone defense in the first half -- necessitated by an even more dire lack of depth -- and limited the Rebels to 15-of-36 shooting from the field (41.7 percent) while pouring in 16 of their own 31 first-half shots (51.6 percent). But, after sprinting out to double-digit leads in the first half, Cal let Ole Miss back into the game just as quickly, going into the half clinging to a two-point lead.

"I thought they were really sharp coming in," said Rebels head coach Andy Kennedy. "Any time you're in a situation such as this, where you go through two months playing league opponents and you know them very well, and they know you, then you come out and, although you try to gather as much information as possible over the 48 hours that you have to prep for the game, you're really just trying to play off of basketball instincts and tendencies. We knew Gutierrez was very, very good off the ball and I think he beat us on a couple of back cuts, a couple of curls. They knocked in rhythm shots early, and then it became contagious.

"I thought our guys did a good job of weathering that and getting back in the game in the second half. It became a one- or two-possession game, you put yourself into a position to win and then you got to find a way to make the winning play, and unfortunately for us, we've been on this side more often than we'd like to admit."

Ole Miss took a cue from Arizona and USC in trying to over-extend the zone, hoisting up 18 three-pointers in the first half -- which accounted for half of their shots before the break.

"One trouble in the zone is the forward on the one side just kept staying underneath and not getting out to the shooter, and there's a reason not to," Montgomery said. "There's stuff we still do that indicate a young team, and that we've got to get better at."

The Rebels went 8-of-18 from beyond the arc in the first half, led by Warren's 3-for-8 performance and two treys apiece from Trevor Gaskins and Zach Graham.

"You've got to take what they give you," Kennedy said. "We're a team that predominantly attacks from the outside in, simply because our two best players (Warren and Graham) are both perimeter guys. We don't have a lot of firepower at the basket, so we were taking what they gave us and we went 12-for-30 from three, and that's 40 percent. Where we got hurt was at the basket. We didn't finish enough at the basket."

As the second half began, Montgomery switched things up. The Bears came out primarily playing man defense, and switched back and forth from man to zone throughout the rest of the evening to keep the Rebels on their heels.

"We played zone in the first half and we felt like we had to do that, just back to the old save-the-bodies deal," Montgomery said. "We probably should have been up a little bit more at half. We had two or three point-blank things where we kind of fumbled the ball when we should have finished, but we still had a lead."

Ole Miss continued to push Cal after halftime, cutting the lead to one point on a lay-up at 17:17 from star guard Chris Warren, who had scored a team-high 11 points in the first half and finished with a team-best 23.

"We wanted to find out, starting the second half, what would happen in man," Montgomery said. "We wanted to find out could we guard them in man. Really, what my intention was, was to see -- in three or four possessions -- what would happen, so that, if we needed to go to that, we had that. If they just shredded us, then it wasn't going to work. I thought we had a reasonable amount of success with (man defense), so it gave us some confidence."

The Bears then bore down on defense, swiping seven second-half steals, led by three from the ever-pesky Gutierrez, who finished with a game-high four steals.

"They executed really well," Warren said. "I've got to give them the credit. They're well-coached and they just knocked down their open shots."

Warren, however, wasn't the only troublemaker. Forward Terrance Henry scored eight of his 11 points after the break, going 6-of-7 from the charity stripe as he drove the lane and drew several key fouls driving the lane on the left side.

"I thought that changing back and forth knocked them a little bit out of rhythm," Montgomery said. "I don't think playing man for the entire second half would have worked, because I think they would have just started playing off of ball screens and isolating, and we had a little bit of trouble with Henry. I don't know yet whether we've figured out that he's left-handed. We should have known that's where he wanted to go, but we let him get there time after time.

"But, we were able to use both defenses, and as we got towards the end, we knew that they were going to get the ball into Warren's hands, and that he was going to try to do something or make something happen, and I thought they did a pretty good job of reacting."

Murray -- who played 11 minutes and scored a season-high five points of Cal's nine off the bench -- showed a lot of poise and basketball IQ during his time on the floor, helping to slow down Warren -- holding him scoreless during the 4:50 he was on the floor in the second half -- and showcasing some of his natural athleticism and range. As soon as Murray hit the floor after the break, he made an impact, stripping Warren at 11:19, pushing the ball up the floor to Kamp, who dished the ball to Solomon for a thunderous dunk to put the Bears up by four.

"Emerson actually made some -- not only offensively -- but some good defensive plays," Montgomery said. "I thought, one, he really stuck Warren for a short period of time, and then there was another time when the guy drove and, as he passed back to Warren, (Murray) reacted back to the ball, which is what you want, but we had not seen that very much. I thought that was a pretty heady play. Then, of course, he hits a three and drives in and makes a play. I thought he gave us some, and that's good. That gives us a little more confidence to use him again."

Without Sanders-Frison -- who separated his right shoulder during Tuesday's practice -- Solomon also stepped up in a big way, starting at center and scoring five points while pulling down a game-high 10 boards.

"The one thing that we stressed before the game was that one person's misfortune is another person's opportunity, and as much as we hated to lose Markhuri, some other people were going to get a chance," Montgomery said. "We just simply didn't have any choice in the matter. As a result of that, I just said, 'Don't be nervous. There's nothing to be nervous about. There's nothing to lose. You're going to have to play, because we don't have a lot of choices. Just go play, and play with confidence.' The guys basically did that."

Solomon's 10 rebounds were the lone highlight for the Bears on the glass, as they got out-rebounded 38-32.

"We could have rebounded the ball more," Montgomery said. "I don't think we did a good job at blocking off. We tried to get into a jumping contest, and that's not a good idea with those guys."

Every Rebels player who saw the floor pulled down at least two boards, led by eight from 6-foot-4 sophomore guard Nick Williams. Gutierrez and Crabbe each came down with five rebounds, but three of the nine Bears to see the floor failed to post a single board.

"That's one of our weaknesses," Montgomery said, "But, Jorge was ready to play and he knew had to come out. If he didn't, we were going to struggle, there's no question, and I think he knew that."

Gutierrez was tasked with defending the dangerous Warren down the stretch, and managed to draw a foul from the senior guard with 14.8 seconds left, with Cal up by one. After sinking both tries from the line, Gutierrez got back up the floor to guard Warren.

"We knew he was going to take the shot, no matter what," Gutierrez said. "I just tried to play good defense on him. We knew he was going to try and make a three-pointer, so I just tried to make it as hard as I could. I just tried to be physical."

With Gutierrez shadowing Warren, Ole Miss was forced instead to turn to Henry, who missed a wild three as the buzzer sounded.

"I really don't know what happened," said a dejected Warren. "I was bringing the ball down the court, kind of slipped, passed it off, tried to get it back, didn't get it back right, Terrance took the last shot, an OK shot, and it didn't go in and they won."

"I would have loved to have gotten a stop to where maybe we weren't down three," Anderson said. "I thought, just from my vantage point, that they maybe tried to foul Chris before he got the shot off, and then we tried to set a high ball screen for him to give him some space and the ball got mishandled, and all of the sudden, Terrance Henry picks it up and ends up taking a shot which, in hindsight, is not the one that we wanted, but you're working against the clock and you try to make the best of the situation."

Notebook
-- The injury to Sanders-Frison occurred during practice on Tuesday, while he was going up against Solomon in the high post. His separated right shoulder spells the end of his college career.

"He was just coming up to the high post to get the ball, and what we tried to do -- because we had seen Mississippi against LSU, who runs the same stuff we do, because (Tigers' head coach) Trent (Johnson) worked for me and we run a lot of the same stuff -- we saw them overplay everything, get up on the high side of everything," Montgomery said. "So, we wanted to at least take a short period of time to say, 'OK, how are we going to get our wings open? How are we going to get our posts open?' We were trying to do that, and as he broke up, he just caught it just wrong and things just popped on out.

"He has had surgery there before, on that shoulder, and the injury is in relatively the same place it was before, so it was a weakened place, and it went right back out."

Without the big man's 10.9 points and 7.4 boards, Crabbe had to step up, scoring 20 points and pulling down five rebounds in 38 minutes.

"We were kind of disappointed when Markhuri got injured, and Harper, we didn't know how he was going to go," Crabbe said. "But, (Kamp) played well tonight for us, even with the sickness. We had to just keep playing Cal basketball and staying positive."

-- Seven Bears saw double-digit minutes on the floor on Wednesday, with nine players seeing action in all. Bak pulled down four boards in his 15 minutes on the floor, and Jeff Powers made the most of his one minute, dishing out an assist.
"They definitely gave us a little lift," Gutierrez said of Cal's bench play. "It gave us some rest, too. I think that was more important. They played hard, they played smart and that's all we needed."

-- The Bears now improve to 12-5 all-time in seven NIT appearances. Cal has won its opening-round game six times. The Bears also improved to 8-1 in home NIT contests.

-- Gutierrez's 25 points mark the seventh time this season that he's scored at least 20 in a game. He also added five boards and six assists, plus four steals to move up to seventh on Cal's all-time season steals list with 54 on the year.

-- Crabbe was 4-of-10 from three-point range to give him 59 treys on the season, one shy of Ryan Drew's school mark for a freshman, set in 1988. It marked the sixth time that Crabbe has scored at least 20 in a game this season, and the fourth in a row. Over the past four games, Crabbe has averaged 22.8 points.

-- In forging a 20-10 lead six minutes into the game, the Bears made 7-of-8 shots from the floor, including 2-of-3 from three-point range. Gutierrez led the early charge with seven points.

-- Murray's three-pointer midway through the first half was his first since making one at Washington State on Feb. 10.

-- Solomon's 10 boards tied his career-high. He also had 10 against Hartford on Dec. 28, 2010. Wednesday marked the freshman's first career start.

-- Ole Miss outscored Cal 17-9 on second-chance opportunities, while the Bears capitalized on nine total steals, outscoring the Rebels 18-11 in points off of turnovers.


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