Cal must answer the bell versus South Florida

Seniors Harper Kamp and Jorge Gutierrez have chance to cement legacy with tournament run, starting off with South Florida and its exceptional defense.

If styles truly make fights, then California's first-round NCAA Tournament game against South Florida has the makings of an ugly, brutish, knockdown drag out affair.

That is how the Bulls managed double-digit wins in the Big East, by making every night a 40-minute street fight.

Whether that rough and tumble style is compatible with the Golden Bears' limited rotation is a concern, but at this point the bigger concern is merely producing an effort worthy of the stakes Wednesday (6 p.m., TruTV) at the University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio.

"We've got an opportunity," Cal head coach Mike Montgomery said. "We're in the tournament. We're going to have to have energy and if we don't we're not going to win."

The winner will move on as the 12-seed to play fifth-seeded Temple on Friday in Nashville, Tenn.

Cal (24-9) staggered to the finish line, losing three of its last four games. More troubling is how they played in those games, twice needing a win to secure a share of the Pac-12 title and twice more in the conference tournament.

Poor starts have been the common denominator, averaging just 27.25 points in the first half during that stretch. The Bears spotted a Colorado team playing its third game in three days a 12-2 lead at Staples Center, while Stanford was up 15 points 15 minutes into the regular-season finale.

That left a team almost entirely reliant on its starters for everything having to expend enormous amounts of energy to try and claw back into the game while hoping to avoid foul trouble.

"In those losses we just feel like we didn't have a lot of energy or motivation like we did early in the season," guard Allen Crabbe said. "It seems like once we fall apart, we can't get the offense going. We get frustrated and things just don't click.

"We're going to have to get out of it quick if we want to go far in this tournament."

That is especially true against a USF team that is as sound defensively as any, ranking 16th nationally in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency. The Bulls (20-13) allow only 56.9 points per game, having allowed 70 or more points three times all season, Kansas, Providence and Georgetown the only teams to do so.

But USF has struggled to score, though it does have seven players averaging more than 6.8 points per game, led by forward Augustus Gilchrist (9.6 points, 4.9 rebounds per game).

That lack of a dominant lead scorer takes away one of Cal's great defensive advantages as senior guard Jorge Gutierrez is more than capable of shutting down any prolific scoring guard.

Instead, he and senior forward Harper Kamp will be asked to provide leadership in their only tournament appearance as upperclassmen.

Each struggled during the late-season downturn, but it can be put to rest with memorable performances on the biggest stage.

"Those kids have worked so hard to get where we are. They should be pretty proud of what they have accomplished. You only have so many opportunities to go to the tournament and it is something that is very special and very coveted," Montgomery said.

"If all of a sudden, either Harper or Jorge were to break loose and have a phenomenal performance, that's where heroes are made, in the tournament." Top Stories