Cal men’s basketball dismantles Arkansas, 75-64, to reach Elite Eight of NIT tournament

Patrick Chong/Staff

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The Cal men’s basketball team has advanced to the Elite Eight. Granted, it isn’t the NCAA tournament, but the Bears are still one of just eight NIT teams still dancing.

The Bears’ dominating performance over Arkansas on Monday night at Haas Pavilion was one of the team’s best showings of the season. The Razorbacks could not find their shooting in the first half of the contest, and they couldn’t come back in the second. Eventually, Arkansas fell to Cal, 75-64.

“We wanted to start off in the zone,” said Cal freshman Jabari Bird. “So that’s what we did, and as the game went on, they couldn’t score.”

Cal led 31-8 toward the end of the first half. Arkansas shot an abysmal 25 percent in that half, while Cal hit nearly everything it took — sinking 63 percent of its shots. It looked like the Bears would run away with an easy win. But Arkansas was able to narrow the gap to 11 within the first minute of the second half. Though Cal was up by double digits, the game was far from over.

Then, the Bears went on a 13-0 run to push the lead to 24. The Bears’ offense ran with deadly efficiency, with players cutting to the basket before kicking it out to others for open shot attempts. Cal had 22 assists on 26 made field goals, spreading the ball around effectively.

“By and large, we did well moving the ball,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery. “Playing small helps that.”

But Arkansas did not roll over. The Razorbacks narrowed the gap to eight with 4:01 to play, taking advantage of a rare cold streak from the Bears. Still, Arkansas could not gain the lead. The game was essentially over when Justin Cobbs sank a jumper with 2:40 remaining to stretch Cal’s lead to 12, putting the game effectively out of reach.

The Bears, who were playing without forward Richard Solomon for the second straight game, had defensive troubles without the senior on the floor. Cal allowed 40 points in the paint against Arkansas, a rare setback for a team that has had a strong interior defense all season. But Arkansas’ outside shooting was abysmal — the Razorbacks hit just 17 percent on 3-point attempts and just 32 percent on overall shots.

No Razorback other than Arkansas’ Bobby Portis scored in the first 15 minutes of the game, and ultimately, the Razorbacks’ inability to put the ball through the hoop proved to be their undoing. Cal’s offense, which featured creative passing from beginning to end, had no problem scoring, and the Bears’ early lead never came into much danger.

Despite the brief hiccups, Cal rolled to an 11-point win, advancing to the Elite Eight of the NIT where the Bears will take on SMU on Wednesday.

Riley McAtee covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @riley_mcatee