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November 22, 2011
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PODCAST: The Bear Republic Podcast will be recording from The Republic at 3213 Scott St., in San Francisco at 6 PM on Tuesday, and we'll be watching the game, too, so stop on by and join us!
No. 20 California (4-0) takes the court for the fifth time this season tonight at 7 p.m. Pacific against No. 21 Missouri (4-0) in a battle of unbeatens at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., in the championship game of the Progressive CBE Classic.
"It's a huge challenge," said head coach Mike Montgomery. "There might be some people that play small (in the Pac-12), but they won't have the talent of these guys."
The Tigers lead the all-time series 4-2, last facing the Bears on Dec. 7, 2008 in Columbia, Mo., when Missouri downed Cal 93-66.
This year, the Bears -- at No. 20 (AP) and No. 18 (USA Today) -- are the highest-ranked team in the Pac-12 for the first time since Nov. 16, 2009, when Cal was No. 13 in the AP Top 25 and No. 12 in the USA Today Coaches Poll en route to its first conference championship in 50 years.
The Bears are shooting for their first 5-0 start since the 2007-08 season, a run which included an 86-72 win on Dec. 1, 2007 in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Challenge in Haas Pavilion in Berkeley.
Senior Cal forward Harper Kamp led the way with 16 points as the Bears defeated Georgia, 70-46, in the semifinals, to secure the Bears' first win in the state of Missouri since 1982. Nearly three decades ago, Cal earned a 76-74 victory against Saint Louis in the Budweiser Classic on Dec. 29, 1982, in St. Louis, under head coach Dick Kuchen. The Bears had lost their last six games in the state of Missouri since the win over the Billikens.
With its fourth win by at least 17 points, Cal has already matched its best start to a season under Montgomery. The four 17-point margins also match the hot start that legendary coach Nibs Price's 1952-53 Bears squad had to open its season.
The last time that Cal and the Tigers squared off on Dec. 7, 2008, Missouri claimed a 93-66 win in Columbia, Mo., before Cal tore off nine straight wins from Dec. 10, 2008 to Jan. 10, 2009. That year -- the Bears' first under Montgomery -- Cal was invited to the NCAA Tournament and returned to Missouri for the first round, where the Bears lost to Maryland at the Sprint Center. Cal's win over the Bulldogs on Monday in the semifinals evens its record at 1-1 in the building.
Kamp is averaging 11.3 ppg and 7.0 rpg, this season. Senior guard Jorge Gutierrez tallied 14 points and seven rebounds against Georgia, and is averaging 13.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Sophomore wing Allen Crabbe leads the team with 14.8 points per game, but he's struggled to find his shot over the past two games. Crabbe went 45:22 between field goals, finally hitting a three to put the Bears ahead as part of a 14-0 run to end the first half on Monday night.
Cal's bench has been a major offensive factor in its four victories with 22.8 ppg. True freshman -- and Missouri native -- David Kravish, has been a revelation in the post, averaging 6.8 rebounds and 6.3 points in 21.3 minutes per game. Kravish has been the Bears' leading rebounder in two of their four games this season with nine against George Washington and eight against the Bulldogs.
To advance to the finals, Missouri dominated Notre Dame in the first semifinal on Monday to the tune of 87-58, led by 26 points from senior guard Marcus Denmon.
"Notre Dame's a really good team," said first-year head coach Frank Haith. "They're going to win a lot of games in the Big East. To have a performance like that tonight obviously has to give these guys some confidence. We're here and we've got another game tomorrow. You look across the country and there are a lot of champions that are going to be named this week. We want to have a championship program. Winning a championship, we're competing for the CBE Championship, is important to get our mentality of winning championships. There's no question; tomorrow we're going to play another great team and we'll be excited about the opportunity."
Sophomore guard Phil Pressey added 17 points to the effort, with Ricardo Ratliffe and Kim English scoring 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Denmon - like Kravish, a Missouri native - had about 30 family and friends in attendance on Monday night, and the Tigers figure to have quite the home court advantage, playing just a couple hours' drive from their Columbia campus.
Missouri played disciplined ball against the Irish, at one point having six assists to zero turnovers in the first half, and put together its highest-scoring half of the season with 3:10 still left in the first stanza.
The Tigers utilized a small, speedy four-guard offense, which applies a lot of pressure, leading Missouri to score 14 points off of Notre Dame turnovers and 12 off the fast break.
"Going into this game, we knew that we were a lot smaller than them, but I guess it works to our advantage because being smaller means you're quicker," Pressey said. "So going into every game we know that we're going to have a lot more quickness than other teams so we prepared for that to help us out in this game."