Braun was serenaded with chants of "500, 500" by the crowd of 7,286 at Haas Pavilion, the loudest cheers coming from the student section on a night when they received free tickets to the game. In addition to dumping a cooler of water on his coach, Benson scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds in his first action since suffering a stress fracture in his heel over the summer.
"My heel is fine but my body is tired," Benson admitted. "I haven't played 5-on-5 since our trip to Italy. I have really only been running for a week and practiced once before this game. So I am pretty exhausted."
DeVon Hardin added a career-high 14 points and had 10 rebounds while freshman Theo Robertson totaled a quiet, effective 14 points, including two treys launched from well beyond the arc.
The Bears continue to battle injuries to the point where Coach Braun may have to start recruiting people out of the crowd prior to tip-off. Against the 49ers, Cal laced ‘em up without its top 3-point threat, guard Richard Midgley, who was sidelined with a shoulder stinger suffered in their season-opening loss to Eastern Michigan. He grabbed pine alongside Leon Powe and Martin Smith in street clothes.
"It is pretty ridiculous," Benson said. "We just have to roll with the punches. This being my senior year, I am not taking anything lightly."
If there is a silver lining with all the banged up Bears, it is the emergence of lesser knowns like Pribble and Robertson. When Ayinde Ubaka picked up his third foul in the first half, Pribble became Cal's primary ball handler against the 49ers' press.
"I play point guard in practice against Ayinde, Richard and Martin so I was ready for the challenge," Pribble said.
His intensity complimented the rhythmic Wilkes in the Bears' backcourt. The second coming of "Silk" Wilkes, Jamal's son, Omar, is better than advertised. With a 40-inch vert, the 6-4, 185-pounder has an Iversonian first step that he used to stuff the box score with five boards and five assists to go along with 18 easy points with no turnovers. And when he wasn't plagued by fouls, Ubaka coolly broke LBS's press before dropping off multiple dimes for his bigs to gather and dunk.
Based on the flashes the Bears showed in Ben's 500th win, Cal could be a force this season if Leon, Richard and Martin can join their teammates on the floor soon. Of course, if ifs and buts were candies and nuts, we'd all have a happy Thanksgiving…
Pribble on Ben Braun's 500th win:
"I have grown up following Cal basketball, with posters on my bedroom wall since I was little. So playing for a legend like Coach Braun has been a thrill for me. To help him get his 500th was an honor I will always remember."
Braun on his injured players:
"I think Richard will be back for the Golden Bear Classic this weekend. Leon and Martin are still questionable. Leon will be re-examined this week. We hope to have him back soon. If the MRI looks good, he could play this week. It is a possibility but not likely. Rod will play his usual minutes this weekend."
Braun on winning 500 games:
"I am a lucky guy in a lot of respects. I have had great coaching staffs and great players who have understood the value of teamwork. It seems like half of my wins have been with walk-ons like Alex Pribble so the way he stepped up tonight was fitting."
Roll on, Coach Braun:
Congratulations from The Bear Insider to the scrappy Badger from ‘Sconsin who has managed to notch 500 wins while still looking like a man in his mid-30s (his secret is that healthy appetite). Even though we usually refrain from math, that is an average of 20 victories per year for 25 years. Well done.
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