California has not seen much of a challenge over the first four games of the season. Coming into today's noon tip against Arkansas with a 4-0 record, the Bears have rarely struggled against the likes of Coppin State, Denver, Oakland and Southern Utah. In order to prepare for today's Maui Invitational opener against the Razorbacks (3-0), Cal has tried some unorthodox training methodology to prepare for Arkansas's tenacious press.
"We spent this week on the track running 40-yard dashes, trying to get back on defense to prepare for Arkansas," said Bears head coach Mike Montgomery.
"I don't know that everybody had quite the rigorous schedule that we had in our first four games at home," Montgomery said in the tournament's opening press conference on Sunday, "but they're games we probably should have won and almost didn't win."
Cal defeated its first four opponents by an average of 19.5 points, but the Bears did have a scare against Oakland, needing a barrage of three pointers from freshman Jabari Bird to escape with a four-point win.
Beyond the four veterans in the starting lineup for the Bears -- Justin Cobbs, Richard Solomon, David Kravish and Tyrone Wallace -- there is really only one other veteran on the bench that Cal can call on who's faced this kind of press defense, and he has quite a bit of in-depth knowledge of it: Ricky Kreklow.
"I think my personal view on my role on this team is kind of to fill in the gaps, whatever we need, in terms of the game or a scenario," Kreklow said last week. This week, that gap will be a knowledge gap, as Kreklow played for Arkansas coach Mike Anderson at Missouri before transferring to Cal.
"We were all really close," Kreklow said of his relationship with the former staff from the Tigers. "My parents coached the volleyball team for years there, so I knew Anderson and his staff all the way through, before I even played for them. I was able to go shoot at Mizzou Arena a lot just because of my mom and dad's position at Mizzou without racking up any recruiting violations, so I would see those guys all the time. They're very personable coaches, in terms of their relationship with the players, so it's going to be fun seeing them again."
For the freshmen – who have yet to see this kind of speed and athleticism, it may be slightly less than fun.
"We know we're up against it," Montgomery said. "No way we can simulate the kind of athletes we're going to face in this tournament specifically tomorrow. So it was a difficult prep trying to get the guys on the bench to be about three steps quicker and about two inches taller and run about five steps quicker than they do. But we tried. So it's a great challenge for us. It's always fun to be here. It's not quite as far for us to get here, but it's still a pretty good trip."
While Kreklow is expected to come off the bench in the opener – as he has for three of the four games thus far – he's proven versatile enough to play just about any role the Bears have needed, shooting 5-for-11 from beyond the three-point arc, averaging three rebounds per game and dishing out seven assists while averaging just over 20 minutes per contest.
"If there's a game where I need to go out there and guard one of the better players on the floor, I'd hope I'd be able to do that," said Kreklow. "If it's a game where there's going to be a lot of open shots on the wings, I'd like to personally step up and be able to hit those shots. If someone needs to start to facilitate the offense, I feel I could be that one."
Kreklow has also served as a small four, guarding players as tall as 6-foot-11 against the Thunderbirds. While the Razorbacks didn't have much size last season, this year, Arkansas has junior transfer forward Alandise Harris (6-6, 237) as its leading scorer (18.3 ppg), with 6-foot-10 true freshman Bobby Portis and 6-foot-7, 232-pound senior Coty Clarke holding down the middle with a combined average of 11.3 boards per game.
"I know Southern Utah had two guys that were 6-11, around 250. We have the specific game plan, where, if I'm at the four against a bigger post, we have stuff to do to try to counteract that advantage, and then to try to exploit that advantage down on offense," Kreklow said. "If I'm guarding their 6-11 guys, one of their 6-11 guys, unless they're playing zone, is going to have to guard me, as well. As long as we can minimize the damage on defense, we can try to exploit that matchup on offense. We have a lot of ways to really send help from bigs and guards down in the post, and ultimately, just try to let them not catch the ball."
One of Cal's biggest issues this season has been remaining engaged for the full 40 minutes, and that will be front-and-center against a speedy, athletic Razorbacks squad.
"That's the way Mike's always played. They did that in Missouri. They played small and they played five out and tried to pressure, and of course Ricky played for Anderson at Missouri, so he knows what's coming, and they try to get in great shape," Montgomery said. "They try to run a lot of people at you, they try to wear you down so the last 10 minutes of the game, they feel like you'll give in. You run the risk of playing their style, thinking, ‘Hey, this is fun,' and then you start getting up and down and of course, you get tired, because you're not used to that.
Coverage of the game will start at 11:30 AM Pacific on the Cal/IMG radio network (KSFO 560 AM), and the tipoff will come at noon on ESPN2.
Kreklow More Than Familiar with Razorbacks
BearTerritory.net Top Stories
By the Numbers: Cal vs. UtahHow do Cal and Utah match up against one another according to the numbers? We take a deep dive.
Dykes on Losses: We'd Be Ranked Pretty HighA full transcript of our weekly teleconference with Sonny Dykes, and this week's guest, linebacker Hamilton Anoa'i.
Josh Green Talks Australia Move, Cal OfferWhat brought Australian guard Josh Green from Australia to the United States? What does the offer from Cuonzo Martin and Cal mean? We've got the latest/
BearTerritory.netYesterday at 6:33 PM
Cal Nets 2018 Commit in Casey SlatteryCal nets another commitment on the baseball diamond, as smooth-hitting first baseman Casey Slattery re-establishes the Berkeley-Harvard Westlake pipeline.
BearTerritory.netSunday at 6:47 PM