Cal's chance is from the outside

The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK - Mike Montgomery is nothing if not blunt.

The coach of California, which plays Maryland in the NCAA tournament's first round Thursday in Kansas City, Mo., was asked yesterday how his team's inside game is progressing.

His response? There is no inside game. Period.

"We just don't [have one]. There's nothing we can do about it," Montgomery told reporters during a conference call yesterday. "We just don't really have a guy that we can station at the post with his back to the basket."

Cal's lack of presence in the paint parallels Maryland's own absence of size. If there is a theme to their meeting at the Sprint Center, it is two teams compensating - in very different ways - for not having scoring threats positioned under the basket.

"They're similar to us in a way in that they don't have much of a low-post presence," Montgomery said of the Terps.

But don't feel sorry for Montgomery and his Golden Bears, the West Region's seventh seed. They have made do with three-point shooting as accurate as any team in the country.

The Bears convert 43.4 percent of their threes - best in Division I. Jerome Randle, a 5-foot-10 junior guard from Chicago, is third in the country at 46.8 percent from behind the arc.

"I think that's a little bit of a misnomer in terms of being the best three-point shooting team in the country," said Montgomery, the former coach of Stanford and the NBA's Golden State Warriors. "We really got off to a fast start, and our percentage was uncanny."

Since then, Montgomery said, the team's three-point shooting has fallen "back to earth."

Still, Cal possesses three dangerous perimeter players in Randle, 6-5 guard Patrick Christopher and 6-6 forward Theo Robertson.

Maryland is 184th in the nation - and 10th in the Atlantic Coast Conference - in three-point field-goal-percentage defense (.344).

The Terps have had to play against many teams larger than Cal. Playing bigger teams often forces Maryland into a zone defense that makes it difficult to guard perimeter players.

Maryland coach Gary Williams, who has won eight straight first-round NCAA games, has said this season that his sagging zone is a "gamble" the undersized Terps have had to take. But they might not need to gamble Thursday. That would allow them to defend Cal's three-point shooters.

Like Maryland, Cal isn't a dangerous rebounding team. The Bears out-rebounded their opponents by an average of 2.3, ranking them sixth in the Pacific-10. They're usually led in rebounding by 6-8 Jamal Boykin or 6-7 Omondi Amoke.

Cal does have a 7-footer, Jordan Wilkes, who plays about 18 minutes a game and averages 4.8 points and 4.0 rebounds. Maryland has made up for its lack of a center - it starts three guards - by trapping and pressing on defense and by penetrating and fast-breaking on offense.

Montgomery said the Bears, too, try to get out and run whenever possible.

Is it helpful, Montgomery was asked, to be playing a team that physically mirrors his own?

"I don't know that it's a good or bad thing," the coach said.

Notes: Maryland has not played the Bears since beating them in the 1996-97 season. ... Both teams are due to arrive in Kansas City today. ... The Terps will make their second trip to the Sprint Center. They played in the inaugural game of the arena, losing to UCLA in 2007 in the CBE Classic.


Thursday, approx. 2:55 p.m.,

Kansas City, Mo.

TV: Chs. 13, 9 Line: Cal by 1

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