California is coming off back-to-back seasons in which it hasn’t qualified for the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament. For a team that is usually always in contention to win the Pac-12, this comes as somewhat of a disappointment to fans in Berkeley. In 2011-12, the Golden Bears looked like they were not only going to make the field of 64, but possibly make it out of the first weekend. Unfortunately, things went drastically wrong for the Bears down the stretch. Sophomore forward Richard Solomon contributed heavily on the glass in the first half of the season, but was lost as an academic casualty midway through January. This didn’t affect Cal immediately, but the strain put on Harper Kamp in the stretch run of the season would cost the Bears, who faced depth issues everywhere. “Over the past few years we’ve lost a lot of depth to transfers (or as an early pro in the case of Max Zhang) – so the players who would’ve been the sixth, seventh, and eighth men (Amandi Omoyke, DJ Seeley, and Zhang) are now playing for Cal State Fullerton or in China,” said “LeonPowe” of California Golden Blogs when RTC talked to him. California would finish its final five games with a record of 1-4, including an embarrassing, not as close as the final score indicated, 65-54 loss against South Florida in the First Four.
As people around the program will tell you, however, the floundering finish was a long time in the making. Coach Mike Montgomery seemed to lose trust early in a couple of his players, most notably Brandon Smith. Due to the combination of a poor start by Smith and a hot one by transfer Justin Cobbs, Smith found himself buried on the bench. Even when the team’s top three shooter’s — Allen Crabbe, Jorge Gutierrez, and Cobbs — lost their touch late in the year, Monty decided to ride the sinking ship with them instead of going back into his bench. Smith only saw a combined 13 minutes of action in the final two games of the year, both 11-point losses. He is only one example, though. The already short bench was even shorter by year’s end, as Montgomery settled into a six-man rotation. Against athletic and quick defensive teams like Colorado and USF, the Bears never really had a chance to compete with those teams.