Cal wins in Montgomery’s debut
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP)—Pacific’s Bob Thomason stopped to greet Mike Montgomery and offer his personal congratulations.
“Good job, Mike. Does my name have to go next to your first win at Cal?” Thomason asked with a chuckle, one veteran Northern California college coach to another.
Jerome Randle scored 24 points and California ushered in the Montgomery coaching era with a hard-fought victory, holding off Pacific 68-56 on Saturday night in the season opener for both schools.
Patrick Christopher added 18 points for the rebuilding Golden Bears, picked to finish eighth in the Pac-10 in Montgomery’s first season.
“You know, I really wanted to win this game,” Montgomery said as he leaned back in his chair and let out a slight sigh. “It felt pretty natural to be honest with you. I was pleased with some things. The kids we expected to step up did.”
Cal fans packed Haas Pavilion for the Bears’ first game under Montgomery, who returned to the college coaching ranks after two years doing television work on the heels of two losing seasons coaching the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. That was after 18 successful seasons at Cal’s biggest rival—Stanford.
Montgomery, who sported a dark suit and bright blue tie for his debut in Berkeley, paced the sideline by his bench with arms crossed for much of the game. He has acknowledged there’s no way he will turn around the program overnight, but 7,850 people turned out to see how he’s doing so far.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Montgomery said. “For an opener at home against a veteran team and a well-coached team, I’m pleased. It was a good test of us in terms of a team that plays physical, doesn’t back off, bangs the boards and do things good teams do.”
James Doran’s 3-pointer for Pacific with 10:59 remaining cut Cal’s lead to 48-39 and the Tigers stayed within striking distance until the end. Lavar Neufville and Doran each scored 10 points for 21st-year coach Thomason’s Pacific team during a game in which both teams struggled to get in sync offensively.
“I think defensively we held them down enough to win the game,” Thomason said. “We couldn’t score in the first half and I was disappointed about that.”
Tigers senior and leading scorer Anthony Brown didn’t get his first points until scoring with 17:08 remaining. He finished with eight and now has 952 career points, looking to become the 25th player in Pacific school history to reach the 1,000 mark. The Tigers were picked by the coaches and media to finish third in the Big West Conference this season.
Theo Robertson returned to the court after a year on the sideline recovering from hip surgery and added 10 points and four rebounds for a Cal team that reached the second round of the NIT last season after a ninth-place conference finish. The Bears lost Pac-10 scoring leader Ryan Anderson early to the NBA and big man DeVon Hardin also is gone.
“Winning the first game was very important,” said Randle, who made four 3-pointers. “I felt we came out with a lot of effort. This is a new system. Everybody’s getting into the mix and guys coming off the bench playing positions they usually don’t play. Everybody’s trying to contribute and be unselfish.”
The inexperience in the paint showed when Cal gave up key rebounds on the defensive end that allowed Pacific second, third and fourth opportunities on some possessions.
Cal leads the series 24-2 and has won the last eight meetings with Pacific. This marked the first matchup since 1999, when the Bears won in the first game played in renovated Haas Pavilion.
Robertson’s back-to-back 3-pointers late in first half gave Cal its biggest lead of 14 points and the Bears held a 36-20 edge at the break. Cal shot 6-for-9 from long range in the opening 20 minutes to Pacific’s 2-of-12 on 3s.
“We can’t settle on being a jump-shooting team,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got to establish an inside game.”