NIT: A Whole New Ballgame

BERKELEY -- We go in-depth with David Kravish, Mike Montgomery and Jabari Bird as Cal prepares for a second-round NIT match-up with Arkansas at 8 p.m. in Berkeley.

BERKELEY -- California may very well earn its way to the next round of the National Invitaiton Tournament. The Bears may even get to New York for the semifinals. But, they'll have to do it without Richard Solomon, out with a concussion suffered early last week. The senior forward will not be available on Monday when Cal takes on Arkansas for the second time at 8 p.m., in a Maui Invitational rematch.

"He hasn't passed any of the tests," said head coach Mike Montgomery. "There's no way. The protocol is such that you have to pass the first test to get to the second test to get to the 24-hour period where you do some exercise and then you determine whether there's any affect from the exercise, and we're not even past the first test yet, so we've pretty much run out of time."

Montgomery was asked once again how the concussion occurred, and once again, he demurred.

"I've told you what I know, and I don't know if there's really any point going beyond that," he said. "He told me what he told me, and Ty [Wallace] was there in the apartment, so that's what you're going to have to go with. I know that you guys want more than that, but that's all there is to it."

Last time the Bears (20-13) and Razorbacks (22-11) squared off, though, Cal had to do it for nearly a half without Solomon, who sustained a right corneal abrasion early in the second half on Nov. 25 in Maui.

As such, Montgomery said that the Bears will likely play a four-guard lineup, with either Ricky Kreklow or Jeff Powers playing the four most of the time, or true freshman Roger Moute a Bidias, who's played in 15 games, averaging just a shade under six minutes per contest.

"That adds confidence to our team, knowing that we kind of beat them without Rich," said freshman wing Jabari Bird, who scored 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting last time out in an 85-77 win against the Razorbacks. "Rich was in foul trouble that game, and then went out with an injury, so now we can do it for the full 40 minutes and play really hard, and hopefully come out with a W."

Without Solomon, the Bears will turn to only one true big man in junior David Kravish, who is not the kind of offensive force Solomon is, nor is he as prolific on the glass, averaging 7.6 boards per game to Solomon's 10.2.

Kravish is not a banger, like Solomon, but is rather more of a finesse, mid-range offensive threat, which doesn't mesh as well with offense in transition as Solomon's athletic presence down low and on the break.

"He's not going to change. He's not going to all of the sudden decide to be Shaq, because Richard's not there," Montgomery said. "He'll be the lone big guy, which is going to make it a little tougher on him, because they'll play him with a different guy than they might have. He gets a lot of his points away from the basket, anyway, but we'll take any help we can get. Dave is certainly a guy who's capable of putting up numbers, and played very well against them last time. It's not like we can go down to him, back-to-basket and expect him to dominate, so we'll just have to pick and choose where he gets it and what he does with it."

While Cal may wind up being a bit more athletic with a four-out lineup, there exists the danger that it could play right into Arkansas's hands.

"Everybody's got their advantages and disadvantages. Ricky and Jeff are going to have a tough time," Montgomery said. "They're going to be guarding guys 6-7, 235 at the four position. We had a hard time rebounding the ball last time against them, and that was with Richard, so it's going to have to be a group effort on the glass. They play different. Their deal is full-court pressure with athletic kids and they play really hard and trap and run and that's not been our style, so it's just different."

The Razorbacks pride themselves on running a so-called ‘fastest 40 minutes' offense, which averages 80.6 points per game, and a defense which has a +5.3 turnover margin.

"In Maui, they definitely got to us," Bird said. "That was the first game I played against pressure like that in college, but we handled it well and we got the W. We've just got to stick to the game plan and hopefully, we'll get the same results."

In that game, Arkansas came up with eight steals as Cal coughed up 18 turnovers. The Razorbacks boasted a +8 turnover margin in that game alone thanks to their full-court press.

"We want to play fast, but we don't want to play fast to the point where they're in control of it," Bird said. "We want to play our style. If that means slowing it down at times, OK, and if we can get on the break, then be aggressive and finish at the rim. We don't want to play a game where it's out of control for a while, because that's more their style. That's what they throw at you."

Rebounding will be key, but, as Montgomery said, it will also have to be a group effort, with Solomon – the Pac-12's leading rebounder – on the shelf. In Maui, Cal pulled down 48 rebounds to the Razorbacks' 32, and out-boarded Arkansas 37-32 even taking out Solomon's 11 rebounds.

What will Kravish, in particular, focus on?

"Playing hard, keeping the paint clean and the glass clean," he said. "We played without Rich for almost half the game last time, and they play mostly with undersized fours, but those guys have been undersized fours probably their whole lives. They're a little more used to it than our small lineup would be at the four. Maybe try to go at the four man, but they kind of play their game, and they make you adjust to their game. They don't make adjustments based on other teams' shooters, but they're going to make you adjust to how they play."

Despite the fact that this year's Bears are probably the most athletic bunch Montgomery has had, playing into the Razorbacks' up-tempo game could lead to an out-over-their-skis situation – a game Cal cannot afford to play, particularly with the youth on the roster.

"You can't avoid it. We actually scored quite a bit of points in Hawaii. It doesn't do you much good to let them press and then back off and come back out and set up and let them then overplay. You've just got to take it," Montgomery said. "We did a great job of moving the ball, last time, throwing the ball to the four man and then ahead to the guards and taking what was available. We've got to do the same thing. We'll be small, which means the four man will be either Ricky or Jeff or Roger, so we've got to take advantage and try to just push the ball up the floor, but we can't turn around and let them re-press us or re-trap us after we've beaten it once."

On offense, Arkansas is a very balanced team, with five players averaging 8.9 points or more per game and 10 players averaging in double-figure minutes per contest.

"[Rashad] Madden had been suspended prior to our game there, and was just coming back, so he wasn't probably as good as he's been lately," Montgomery said of the Razorbacks' leading scorer, who's averaging 12.6 points per game and a sparkling 40% mark from three-point range. "It's the same team, there. They play 11 guys, 10 guys in double-figure minutes, and they're very athletic. They press you every chance they get, so it's pretty much the same."

The Razorbacks also have quite a three-point sniper in sophomore guard Anthlon Bell, who went 4-for-10 from long distance in Maui against the Bears and has poured in 33.8% of his three-point attempts (49-for-145) on the season.

"He can shoot it from Emeryville," Montgomery said. "He's got great range, shooting the ball. He's primarily a three-point shooting guy. He's been to the line 15 times all season long. They run some stuff, pitch back to him, and he'll go behind a guy to catch it. He shot a couple in against us from an area that you'd never expect a kid to shoot it from and he looked very natural. He's got great range. He's a really good shooter, but he's just one of five or six guys. They've got six guys almost averaging double figures. They've got a number of people who can put up numbers, so they don't rely on any one guy, but he can really shoot the ball. We knew that going into last game, but, if you look at it statistically, that's not your focal point, but you'd better know where he is, because he can shoot it from a long way out."


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