Stevens: Alford's Young Lobos Go to Cal-Berkeley For Season's First Road Game
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  11/18/2010
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Nov. 18, 2010

Lobo Men's Basketball - At California Golden Bears
8 p.m. (MT), Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
On The Air: 770-AM KKOB / Lobo Radio Network; No TV
GoLobos.com: Game Story, Quotes, Stats, GameTracker

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

It's not that Steve Alford's undefeated Lobo pups haven't been challenged. Detroit was good and loaded. Arizona State was better and loaded.

The 2-0 Lobos swatted down those two teams rather comfortably in the warm and friendly confines of The Pit. The comfort zone will not be present at Cal-Berkeley.

The Lobos will not be embraced in Berkeley, although it's possible that the Bears' loyalists will be distracted by the big Stanford Cardinal/Cal football game.

Or maybe the Bears' fanatics will show up for basketball with some hostility to burn.

"It's going to be a big one," said UNM's Dairese Gary, referring to the hoops' game. "We have to be ready for that crowd."

For sure, the challenge thrown at Alford's Lobos, featuring one senior in Gary, gets nastier. This is the first true road game at the D-I level for several Lobos. It's also Cal. The Bears are good and they are trying to show a few people that the Pac-10 crown they won a year ago will be mightily defended.

The Lobos are planning some defense, too.

"We have to guard," said Alford. "We are 2-0 right now because of what our guys are doing defensively.

"When you go on the road, it's even more imperative that you take away easy things, take away easy scores. You want to be as hard to play against as possible, because the longer you can stay around in a game on the road, that pressure continues to shift onto the home team."

Cal won its first league crown in 50 years by running away from the Pac-10 crowd last season. The Bears also lost a lot of production off that team and, like UNM, is trying to fill some holes with youth.

That Cal youth is supposed to be good. It was ranked the No. 17 recruiting class in the nation by one scouting service. The Bears have no choice but to throw some of that talented youth at the Lobos.

"It's hard to tell just how good they are," said Alford. "We know they are going to play extremely hard and they really guard. But a lot of their personnel is new."

Cal returns only a single starter from last year in junior guard Jorge Gutierrez. He moves from the off-guard spot to the point. He was a member of the Pac-10 All-Defensive team last year, but needs to add some point production to his "D." He averaged 5.5 points a year back.

"In my mind, Jorge is outstanding," said Alford. "He is one of the better guards we'll play against all year. I think he is terrific."

The Lobos were expected to get into a defensive struggle against the last Pac-10 team they hammered - Arizona State. The Sun Devils had their moments, but failed to match the Lobos' intensity or the Lobos fury off the bench.

Cal is talking defense, too. Gutierrez has 55 steals over the past two seasons. He'll get some defensive experience inside from senior center Markhuri Sanders-Frison. Cal also brings back junior forward Harper Kamp, who is returning this season after sitting out all of last year recovering from knee surgery.

Neither of these Bears has yet to establish a fearsome shooting touch. Kamp averaged 3.8 points as a sophomore and Sanders-Frison scored at a 3.3 clip last year.

Those unimpressive scoring stats don't mean the Bears will prove to be cubs in Berkeley. Cal has won 28 of its last 30 non-conference home games at Haas Pavilion. Bears coach Mike Montgomery is 31-3 at Haas and Cal went 15-1 at home last year, losing in overtime to UCLA.

Yes, the Lobos will be tested.

"I can talk about road trips all I want, but until you go through it, you just don't know," said Alford. "You hope that you are building toughness in practice and you remind them about toughness. Playing on the road is about toughness, mentally and physically. I'm anxious to see how they handle it."

Probably the best thing you can take to Berkeley -- besides defense, rebounding and hot shooting -- the Lobos have in Gary. You need leadership and confidence at the point and Gary is all that. He also can defend and score.

Alford likes to throw Gary on the enemy's top perimeter player and that probably will be Gutierrez. He kicked out a career-high 18 points and added eight assists in Cal's season opening 80-63 win over Cal State Northridge.

And Gutierrez threw up those numbers taking only four shots. His gravy against Northridge was the charity stripe where he threw down 13-of-15. His free tosses down the stretch helped Cal extend its home winning streak against non-conference opponents to 20.

The Lobos will either end that streak or make it 21.

Northridge threw a zone at Cal, challenging the Bears to bust it from the outside. Cal was not a zone buster, shooting 11-of-16 from behind the line. Kamp had a nice opener with 12 points and seven boards. Sanders-Frison had 15 points and 10 boards.

Alford isn't opposed to throwing out a zone, if that's what it takes to win. But he prefers his Lobos to man up and go nose-to-nose. "All we've played so far is man," he said."

One young Bear the Lobos need to watch is freshman guard Allen Crabbe. He scored 22 in an exhibition win over Sonoma State. He was the 2010 California Gatorade Player of the Year and Parade All-American. Freshman Gary Franklin had 17 points in the exhibition game.