ANALYSIS: Bears Push Back

After being physically manhandled by Colorado the last three seasons, California responds Saturday in dominating manner.

BERKELEY, Calif. – Colorado has been a thorn in California's side the last three years, even before it joined the Pac-12 last season. There was the NIT loss to end the 2010-11 campaign, the thumping in Boulder this time last year when a conference title was in sight followed by defeat two weeks later in the conference tournament, and one more pummeling in the thin air of the Rocky Mountains at the end of January.

The Buffaloes have been able to bully the Golden Bears in those games, on the offensive and defensive glass and with aggressive body-on-body defense. They had been the more physical team, helping reinforce the notion that Cal is soft and can be pushed around.

Well Cal pushed back Saturday afternoon at Haas Pavilion, turning the tables on their tormentors. They were the team that was tougher. They were the team that imposed their will. They were the team that attacked down low.

It was a style of play that has become comfortable for Cal during its seven-game winning streak ensuring a top-four finish and first-round bye in the conference tournament, one that head coach Mike Montgomery acknowledged might not be its natural predilection.

Maybe it shouldn't be a surprise considering how its offensive leader Allen Crabbe likes to play. The favorite to win Pac-12 Player of the Year honors is a jump shooter by trade. He doesn't like to get jostled. He wants space, the opportunity to operate and release the ball cleanly.

And in a game where referees called next to nothing in the first half, with each team being whistled for just four fouls, where contact was the norm throughout, it shouldn't have been a surprise that Crabbe finished with eight points and was clearly uncomfortable.

Instead, it was Tyrone Wallace, Justin Cobbs, David Kravish, and Richard Solomon who thrived in circumstances that had far more in common with the Big Ten than the Pac-12, especially with 16 combined points through the first 10 minutes.

Solomon delivered all six of his points and four offensive rebounds during a 2:23 stretch early in the second half just as Colorado had cut the lead to one, restoring positive vibes to a nervous home crowd.

Kravish was as effective as he has been all season, with 16 points and 11 rebounds, but was at his best limiting second-chance opportunities. Even as Colorado rolled up 20 offensive rebounds, it resulted in 11 points.

Cobbs, who started his career at Minnesota, showed no fear as he drove the lane relentlessly to create runners and pull-up jumpers for himself and easy drop-offs for teammates.

Then there was Wallace, who solidified his status as one of the best slashers on the West Coast. Whenever he wanted, the freshman found himself at or above the rim. Six of his eight field goals came from point-blank range, giving him as many points in the paint as Colorado had as a team.

Those four attacked and attacked and attacked on both ends of the court. Colorado had 46 points total, Cal had 44 points in the paint. That's anything but soft.

It is the style of play that typified last year's team, anchored by Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp. That group made up for lesser talent and minimal depth by playing hard on every possession, but still couldn't handle Colorado. It ended up costing Cal a championship.

With a little help, that can happen this year. Cal needs only to beat Stanford on Wednesday and a loss from Oregon to claim at least a piece of the crown. Ironically, Montgomery identified Colorado as the team most likely to defeat Oregon and the game he will be watching.

Cal would be thrilled to see Colorado reestablish its physicality next week. Right now, it will simply be content to be the team that pushed someone else around.

Dan Greenspan writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan. Top Stories