Saturday, March 20, 2010

Are The California Golden Bears The Next Shocking Scare In Tourney?

There’s no bigger infatuation in college hoops than a team ostensibly declared as a Cinderella.

If this is a point in the season when we truly find out what a team is made of, then we may have learned about the California Golden Bears, amazed with their miraculous blueprint of attempting the unprecedented.

With all due respect, it has no relation to a famous football team, but is related to the resurrection of a well-balanced basketball team, established within a noteworthy athletic program.

All sporting teams existing within an inferior conference or with lower seeds, greatly ventures beyond any mirages or flukes and derives respect after being ignored for instability in the past.

Before refuting the Golden Bears in the midst of an inconceivable survival, realize that this tenacious team won’t be an easy out. If people weren’t to deny the truth, before an expected moment written what is viewed as a make believe movie, there’s an indicator that the Golden Bears are just as perilous as Ohio, Cornell or Murray State.

What a shame that gamblers and bracketology overlooked a potential Cinderella, now wearing a glass slipper after making a strong case with a decisive win in the first-round Friday night.

For those curious to know how eighth-seeded California took a commanding lead in the early minutes and sent a credible message to all doubters, the Golden Bears are athletic and well-coached of narrating an astonishing story.

Despite a disappointing loss in the Pac-10 tournament, the program that originated in the Bay Area are good, maybe, great to some living in Northern California. If the Bears were utterly calm, instead of entering a rigid contest with the jitters, then it’s realistic to believe they could explode on Duke early, maybe?

That’s the common question and a fitting one, facing the hottest team arguably in the second-round of the NCAA tournament. Competition only gets stiffer, as it should for an undiscovered program that hasn’t been on such a perennial level.

For a long time, Cal’s basketball program suffocated by a popular powerhouse known as UCLA, a now-depleted roster that has faded out of contention.

For a long time, Cal’s basketball program was overshadowed by interstate rival Stanford.

For a long time, Cal’s basketball program couldn’t find its identity within a compelling basketball conference with brand name players.

But lately, all the brand name student-athletes are listed on Cal’s roster, sparking a scare within a cryptic South region.

There wasn’t a point during the game that things became dicey for the Golden Bears, managing to contain a comfortable margin with a 22-4 explosion at Veterans Memorial Arena. They were in control, refusing to allow a shaky Louisville team to find a groove or momentum as a way to taper California’s endless rhythm.

Basically, here is a cohesion core that has gelled and played together within a four year span, accustomed to each others’ styles and plays unselfishly. At the end of a 77-62 win, it was worth celebrating and rejoicing the sudden emergence after making a sage of a wise, crafty coach Mike Montgomery.

Something happened along the way that resembled much of Montgomery. A couple days ago during an interview, he reminisced about his lustrous coaching track record, but also was candid admitting it has been difficult building a proficient program.

“It was easy for me,” Montgomery said. “This is harder, he said, “other than maybe I have a little more experience on knowing what’s going to happen.”

He ended up leaving Stanford, where he guided the Cardinal to 16 NCAA postseason appearances and a lone trip to the 1998 Final Four, the first bid in 47 seasons. Here’s the pattern we are witnessing now: Montgomery molded his sophomores until they became seniors, a season the Cardinal finished 26-7 with upperclassman.

None of this was a comparison to an upstart in the NBA. In two seasons with the Golden State Warriors, he posted two identical 34-48 records during both the 2004-05 and 2005-06 campaigns, before it was announced that Montgomery was fired.

In the college game, history is repeating itself. Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson, and Patrick Christopher are three seniors, duplicating a habitual pattern. If anything, that is dominating and trying to win as seniors, something California will attempt in a tense tourney.

The Golden Bears transformed from a first-round letdown to a probable team wearing the glass slippery. Not all teams will last or advance to the Sweet 16. But in the meantime, if given the choice to pick one, I’d pick the Golden Bears.

The glass slippers were always silver, but now it may be a pair of Golden ones. Seemingly every March, there’s a team emerging from out of nowhere, stunning us all with their inspiration, hot shooting and brilliant defensive effort.

It’s surprising Cal wasn’t bothered by Louisville’s press and zone defense, composed at attacking the rim and shooting in their comfort zone. In a way, they’re impossible to beat when they shoot over 46 percent, a perfect 21-0 against opponents. Maybe the Bears can break down Duke, and send the first No. 1 seed home, possibly?

Right now, Randle and Robertson are playing their best basketball, and each scored 21points, while Christopher added 17. Each shot a combined 20 of 35 and made all eight three-pointers to unglue Louisville’s fundamentally sound defense.

Without starting forward Omondi Amoke because of a suspension, the Bears still have solidity and balance. More than anything, their calmness and assurance were components of avoiding a huge meltdown.

While the Cardinals went on a light scoring tear and forced four turnovers, Rick Pitino’s unit soared on a 12-0 run cutting the deficit to 30-24. All of this was a scare, but the Golden Bears quickly rebounded and scored the last five points of the half on Christopher’s pull-up 15-footer and Randle’s 37-footer at the buzzard.

It capped an exalted story, one of the conspicuous stories in the crazy month of March. Can this team accomplish the improbable? Any team is bound to upset.

All that said, the Bears now are favored.