The first time Arkansas saw California this season was in Maui, the Bears saw a hot-shooting Anthlon Bell.
The Razorbacks (22-11) hope that same Bell – whose shot went missing in action during the middle of the season but has since returned – appears again Monday night in their 10 p.m. NIT second-round match-up with the Bears (21-13).
Bell is coming off a career-high 28-point effort in a 91-71 win over Indiana State – a contest in which he knocked down 11-of-13 shots, including 7-of-9 3-pointers.
"I think it was just partly immaturity," Bell said. "Over the season, I've matured a lot. Because of that, I can keep on playing well as the process goes along."
Bell hit 16 of his first 42 3-pointers (38.10 percent) this season, but then hit a slump that saw him make only 13 of his next 64 (20.3) percent.
He has rebounded to hit 20 of his last 39 3-point attempts (51.3 percent) in the last seven games and has rising career highs of 19 against Mississippi State, 23 against Ole Miss and then the 28 against Indiana State.
"Just confidence and repetition," Bell said. "Just staying in the gym making sure I'm taking the same shot, because early on I feel like I was shooting different shots. I just had to get the repetitions in. That was it."
It certainly has been a blessing for Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson and Bell's teammates.
""I think he's playing with a lot of confidence; our guys are playing with a lot of confidence in him," Anderson said. " I mean, he's got a nice rhythm going. The thing that I like about it is it's not like he's trying to go get the game. I think he's letting the game come to him. He started out attacking the basket, getting a little short floater or getting a layup. He even had a tip in the other night, and I think once he sees that ball going in, our guys are doing a good job of screening and getting in position to knock shots down."
Rashad Madden has racked up some assists by finding Bell.
"He's back in a good shooting state of mind," Madden said. "He's getting his confidence back up. He always had it in him. Everybody goes through a little shooting slump. But we're glad we've got him back and he's good to move forward."
Arkansas hopes it is able to move forward as well with a win over California, who downed the Razorbacks 85-77 in the Maui Invitational opening game back in November.
While Arkansas will be at full strength, the Bears will be without big man Richard Solomon (6-10, 235) due to a concussion.
Solomon had 11 points and 7 rebounds in the earlier win over the Razorbacks while battling foul trouble and is one of three Division I players this season to average a double-double.
"He hasn't passed any of the tests. There's no way," California head coach Mike Montgomery said Sunday. "The protocol is such that you have to pass the first test to get to the second test. We're not even past the first test."
After starting the season 3-0, Arkansas opened the game against California by making 1-of-12 from the floor shot just 37 percent from the field while getting drubbed on the boards 48-32 (27-14 after intermission).
Bobby Portis and Coty Clarke – the Razorbacks' two leading rebounders - both had just one rebound each in a combined 39 minutes of action.
Michael Qualls had 21 points and Bell 16 with four 3-pointers, but both came off the bench due to be late to a meeting.
Bell also had a career-high six rebounds in the win over Indiana State.
"That's what we talked about," Anderson said of guards rebounding the ball. "When the guards rebound…we're going to be in the ball park in rebounding with all teams. I think it helps us in getting more possessions, more shots. Because you're not only getting defensive rebounds, you're getting offensive rebounds as well.
"And what it does also; it gives the big guys even more of a mindset of going to the glass," Anderson added." Why? Because these guys are helping us. I think that's to me a win-win situation when your guards rebound the basketball. When you're playing against a team, California shoots the ball, they shoot 3s and we've got to have guards in position to get some of those long rebounds."
David Kravish (6-9, 221) had 19 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Bears while former Missouri and Anderson player Ricky Kreklow added 17 points and All Pac 12 point guard Jalen Cobbs and McDonald's All-American Jabari Bird both added 15 points.
"We did a good job of moving the ball last time," Montgomery said. "We took what was available. We're going to take advantage and pass the ball up the floor."
The winner of the Arkansas-Cal game will play the winner of Monday night's LSU at SMU game.
If SMU wins, it will host that game. If LSU wins, it play at Arkansas or California.
A loss would mean it would end the season for Arkansas and the college career of five seniors.
"We talked about earlier sending these guys out the right way," Anderson said. "We're in a national tournament, so let's take it one game at a time. There's a prize at the end, and you're closer than you think you are. So, let's just take it one game at a time. Knowing that if we don't take care of business in that particular game there won't be another game.
"I think the sense of urgency and sending these guys out the right way (is the motivation)," Anderson added. "Therefore, I think you're going to see a team that's going to lay it all out there on the floor. I think they want to see these guys go out in style."
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