Saturday, Nov. 29, 2008 | 2:10 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Rob Miech talk about UNLV's 73-55 loss to Cal in the Global Sports Classic on Friday night, as the the Rebels dropped their first game of the season thanks to 19-of-64 shooting.
It's not that Patrick Christopher had never been asked to play defense. It just hadn't been demanded of him the way it is now under first-year California coach Mike Montgomery.
"We were an offensive team," the junior guard said of last year's Cal squad, which went 17-16 under Ben Braun. "We were maybe a point or two away from leading the Pac-10 in scoring last year. Defense is expected of everybody, but the demand is the thing."
The fruits of that effort on both ends of the floor showed Friday evening at the Thomas & Mack Center, as the Bears improved to 5-0 under Montgomery with a 73-55 pasting of UNLV in the Global Sports Classic.
Cal held UNLV to a paltry 29.7 percent (19-of-64) shooting from the floor. The Bears also relegated the trio of Wink Adams, René Rougeau and Joe Darger -- the Rebels' three senior leaders -- to 6-of-30 combined shooting.
"We just felt like we had to play some better defense, had to be a team that took more pride in its defense," Montgomery said. "And we've started to do that."
Christopher said the returning players knew it would be in their best interest to put stock into what Montgomery was pitching when he first arrived. After all, he'd posted 393 wins in 18 seasons at Stanford between 1986 and 2004, including 16 NCAA tournament appearances, five Pac-10 titles and a Final Four appearance in 1998.
"What more can you ask of a coach?" Christopher added. "He'll be a Hall of Fame coach one day. I couldn't ask for a better coach."
Montgomery had to scramble a bit to add some bodies once arriving in Berkeley, but he found some promising prospects. Among them are 6-foot-3 freshman guard Jorge Gutierrez, who came from Findlay College Prep in Henderson.
Montgomery added the native of Chihuahua, Mexico, practically sight unseen. He scored 10 points in 17 minutes against UNLV.
There's also 7-foot-3 frosh Max Zhang, who blocked three shots but altered several others while playing just six first-half minutes against the Rebels.
But as has been the case this season, Montgomery hasn't gone to the bench frequently. His five starters against UNLV averaged 29.4 minutes on the floor.
Those starters were huge from start to finish against UNLV, though.
Junior point guard Jerome Randle provided some solid swagger, along with a game-high 18 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds. That was done in 38 minutes of work. Playing 37 was Patrick Christopher, the second of five Bears to score in double figures. He had 12 points and seven rebounds.
"We're gonna have to develop our depth," said Montgomery, whose team faces Florida State tonight at 7:30 p.m. "I'm a little leery. First half, I probably should have played more players longer, to keep fresh at the end. Got a game (tonight), played a lot of minutes, more minutes than we've played, and that might take its toll.
“But that's just on me to develop depth and have confidence in my guys."
Thinking about avoiding late-season burnout for his starters, though, is easy when a team is clicking like Cal.
A deeper squad a year ago — which featured two NBA draft picks in Ryan Anderson and DeVon Hardin — averaged 76.4 points. This season, through five games, Cal is averaging 79. The defensive end has produced the biggest difference. After allowing an average of 75.1 in '07-08, the Bears are now yielding 58.0.
Of course, those numbers will probably shift some once Cal gets into the meat of its Pac-10 schedule. The Bears were shooting 54.4 percent from the floor and bumped it to 55.6 percent with Friday’s 7-for-10 performance.
There's nothing wrong with building some confidence and setting a tone, though.
"It helps when you get some reinforcements by winning some games, obviously," Montgomery said. "Their mindset is 'we can score.' Defensively, we've got to do a good job across the board because there are going to be nights where we don't shoot as well as we have."