A trip to Maui conjures up images of warm-water snorkeling and beachside drinking. But on Monday afternoon, the Arkansas men’s basketball team made sure the Bears’ vacation to Maui would be anything but relaxing.
Possession after possession, the Razorbacks pressured the Cal offense for all 94 feet of the floor. The strategy paid off in the first half, forcing the Bears into 10 turnovers and a bundle of points allowed in transition. At halftime, the underdog Arkansas squad was locked in a tied game with the Bears. Mike Anderson’s patented Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball is engineered to wear down teams, and it looked like the Razorbacks were in the midst of running the Bears right into the consolation round.
But Cal just refused to slow down. In the second half, the Bears blew the doors off the full-court press, pushing through the intense backcourt pressure and manufacturing fast-break opportunities on the other end. Jabari Bird knocked down a couple of threes after the break, and Richard Solomon fought through foul trouble to lock down the paint on defense.
A three-point lead ballooned to 11 in three minutes, and Cal was well on its way to an 85-77 opening-round victory at the Maui Invitational. It now advances to the semifinals, where it will face No. 8 Syracuse at 4 p.m. PST on Tuesday.
“We’re pleased,” said head coach Mike Montgomery. “We think Arkansas is a really good team.”
Forward David Kravish led the Bears in scoring with 19 points. At 6-foot-9, Kravish rarely steps outside 15 feet on offense. The forward surprised everyone — including Montgomery — by launching a 3-pointer from the left corner early in the first half. The ball rattled around and fell through the netting, granting Cal an early 10-3 advantage and Kravish his first career three.
Kravish also spearheaded the Bears’ dominant rebounding performance. The junior pulled down 15 boards, many coming while Solomon sat with foul trouble. Despite possessing no discernable size advantage, Cal outrebounded Arkansas, 48-32, including a 19-14 advantage on the offensive end.
“Richard and I take it upon ourselves to really try to control the glass and bring it,” Kravish said. “When he goes out of the game, I feel like I really have to step it up. So when he was in foul trouble, I had to step up my game and keep playing physical, keep playing hard and grabbing every rebound, so that’s what I did.”
Although the Bears struggled at times to push the ball past halfcourt, strong shooting kept their offense afloat. Bird and Ricky Kreklow aided Kravish’s stellar post scoring with seven points each before the break. Kreklow hit two threes, helping spread the floor for Justin Cobbs’ drive-and-penetration game in the second half.
Kreklow and Bird were key defensively, racing around the perimeter as cogs in a surprise zone defensive scheme. Montgomery’s risky tactics worked; the Razorbacks shot just 36.7 percent from the field in the first half.
Reserve guard Anthlon Bell’s shooting kept Arkansas around, routinely pulling up from Honolulu to bomb 30-footers behind the Cal line of defense. Surprisingly, he nailed three of them on his way to scoring 11 points in the half.
The Bears locked down the streaky Bell in the second half, limiting him to just five points for the rest of the game. With Bell locked down, the Razorbacks flailed on offense. Arkansas attacked the basket but was almost always met by Kravish or Solomon at the hoop, prepared to change the shot. A 1-for-7 shooting slump gave the Bears the window to grab the lead, and they capitalized; Bird’s two 3-pointers and a flurry of Solomon two-handed dunks ensured Cal a spot in the final four teams of the prestigious preseason tournament.
“That’s what Richard loves to do,” Cobbs said. “Richard loves dunking, and it gets him going. So myself as a point guard, I know that’s big for him. It gets his energy going. And he starts grabbing every rebound. I know it started turning things around.”