The big news out of California’s trip to Los Angeles this weekend was the Bears’ first season sweep of both UCLA and USC since the 1958-59 season, an accomplishment that left head coach Mike Montgomery mostly wondering “what’s been going on since 1958?” But the details behind that accomplishment are the important part. And paying attention to details is exactly how Cal pulled off the sweep this weekend. Against UCLA, for example, when big man Joshua Smith entered the game for the Bruins a couple minutes in, he went to work immediately, drawing three early fouls on Golden Bear bigs who were late and a bit tentative when bringing the monster double team. However, after Smith scored five points on the first three possessions where he touched the ball, Cal tightened up that double team with their forwards and got help from their guards trying to cut off the angle to feed the post. “In their offense, they really try to create angles for Smith, just because of how big his body is, and once he gets the ball in there, he can move pretty much anyone in the country around,” said forward Robert Thurman. “So, we just tried to cut off that initial angle and then the monster double was able to come and help out when he did get the ball.” As such, for the final 35 minutes or so of the game, Smith was never again a major positive force for UCLA, just one example of how the Golden Bear defense is able to X-and-O to minimize their opponent’s strengths.
That Cal frontcourt was tested significantly on Saturday, and responded with aplomb. After David Kravish and Harper Kamp both picked up two first half fouls (Kravish picked up his second at the 17:30 mark, Kamp at 8:11), Thurman and Bak Bak were called on to help out along the front line and between the two of them the provided 33 total minutes, nine points, five boards and plenty of tough defense against Smith and the Wear twins (who combined to shoot just 5-of-19 in the game). While the lack of depth along the front line is something of a concern heading into March, on Saturday it was no problem. The frontcourt as a whole may not get the accolades that the flashier backcourt gets, but they’re a big component to Cal’s success. “They’re always in the right spot, they do a great job rebounding the ball, and on defense they’re doing a great job of defending and helping on screens,” said guard Justin Cobbs. When you think of the Golden Bears, it is likely their backcourt that comes to mind first, but the front line is always producing.