BERKELEY, Calif. (AP)—California learned very quickly about the downside of the hype that comes from a preseason ranking. There will be no taking opponents by surprise this year.
The 13th-ranked Golden Bears got off to a shaky start to the season, going on one big second-half run keyed by Patrick Christopher before holding off Murray State 75-70 Monday night in the 2K Sports Classic.
“That’s why you play early season games to learn and figure out what to do next,” coach Mike Montgomery said.
The Bears (1-0) entered the season with high hopes, coming off an NCAA tournament appearance in Montgomery’s first season. Cal was ranked in The Associated Press preseason poll for the first time since 1995-96 and had its highest preseason mark since the 1993-94 team led by Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray was ranked sixth.
But the Racers (0-1) knew all about Cal, denying Christopher and Jerome Randle the open looks they got so often last season.
“All of a sudden these guys are two all-conference picks,” Montgomery said. “People know about them. Like any team does, you’re going to go after other teams best players and do everything you can to take them out and make everyone else beat you.”
Christopher scored six of his 13 points during the key 11-0 run and Randle led the way with 18 despite shooting 4 of 12 from the field.
Theo Robertson added 14 points and Jamal Boykin scored 12 for the Bears, who let the Racers cut an 18-point lead down to six with 2:31 to go before holding on for the win.
“We’re still trying to find our rhythm,” Boykin said. “That’s what you learn early in the season. Right now we’re getting a feel for who we are as a team and trying to build our identity.”
Cal relied heavily on the 3-pointer last season, leading the nation by shooting 42.7 percent from long range. But the Racers denied the deep shot, playing tight defense on Christopher all game long.
He managed to get an open look after an offensive rebound to start the 11-0 run that gave the Bears a 47-31 lead. Robertson followed with a 3-pointer and Christopher also had a three-point play during the run.
The Racers managed to chip away at the lead, cutting it to six on a 3-pointer by B.J. Jenkins with 2:31 remaining, but Robertson got a key offensive rebound off a missed free throw and Randle hit an acrobatic layup with 1:22 to go to make it 72-64.
“We got a big lead and got complacent,” Randle said. “We were just worried about offense. They jumped on us. We have to do a better job of coming out and setting a tone on defense.”
Cal got its 32nd win in its last 34 nonconference home games.
Ivan Aska scored 17 points to lead the Racers, Jenkins added 16 and Danero Thomas 12. Murray State was done in by 17 turnovers.
“That’s a very good team in a tough environment,” Racers coach Billy Kennedy said. “It’s a little early for us to be playing a team that experienced and that well coached. But I was pleased our guys didn’t back down.”
Cal will play Detroit on Wednesday before facing Syracuse next week at Madison Square Garden. Murray State plays next week in the Miami subregional against James Madison, North Carolina Central and Florida International.
Murray State, playing against a Pac-10 team for the first time in 23 years, kept it close for most of the first half. But Randle scored the final six points of the half, including four from the foul line, over the last 2:14 to give the Bears a 34-26 lead. Cal was 13 of 18 from the line in the half.
“They did a pretty good job of taking us out of our offense,” Randle said. “We just have to be smart out there and go to something else.”
Former Cal star Shareef Abdur-Rahim got a nice ovation when he was introduced, but he might have been cheering for the Racers because his brother, Amir, is an assistant for the team. Kennedy also has ties to Cal, serving as an assistant there from 1993-97.
The Classic benefits Coaches vs. Cancer.