Click photo to enlarge
California head basketball coach Mike Montgomery talks to the press at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif., Sunday, March 11, 2012, after the NCAA tournament bids were announced, slating the Golden Bears to play South Florida in a play-in game Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

DAYTON, Ohio -- A tired Cal basketball team that peaked 31/2 weeks before its brief stay in the NCAA tournament returned home Thursday, its season over and its future facing questions.

But Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour doesn't believe the status of coach Mike Montgomery is one of those questions.

Asked whether she expects Montgomery, 65, to be back for his fifth season in Berkeley, Barbour said, "Absolutely."

She said a contract extension is in the works, but acknowledged that this has not been just any season for Montgomery, who underwent surgery for bladder cancer on Oct. 18. He has just completed the fourth year of his original six-year contract with Cal.

"He has been through a lot," she said in an interview during halftime of the Bears' 65-54 loss to South Florida in an NCAA tournament First Four game. "I'm sure he is tired. Coaches under the best of circumstances always are at the end of a long, successful season. He'll recharge his batteries and get back after it."

Montgomery, given a clean bill of health in the aftermath of his surgery, said he has nothing new to report. "Who knows what's going on in there," he said. "I didn't know I had it before. Everything's good."

Certainly everything wasn't good with the Bears (24-10) either against USF or while losing four of their final five games. Cal was 23-6 and positioned to win the Pac-12 title before swooning at the finish.


Advertisement

Against the Bulls, the Bears trailed 57-25 with just under 9 minutes left, having made just 9 of 38 shots to that point. The final score was a cosmetic aid to a gruesome performance.

Departing 1,000-point scorers Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp will take with them much more than offensive prowess. They set the bar for toughness and commitment, and now others must grow into those roles.

Sophomore guard Allen Crabbe, the team's leading scorer (15.2) and a first-team all-Pac-12 selection, missed his first eight shots against USF. He acknowledged afterward that he must address his lack of consistency.

"You've got to go out there and be aggressive," Crabbe said. "It seems like I only play in spurts. I do something good and I just disappear."

Sophomore point guard Justin Cobbs, who exceeded expectations much of the season, tailed off late. And 6-foot-9, 210-pound freshman forward David Kravish, another surprise, simply was overpowered by South Florida.

The problem, Montgomery said, was partly physical and partly an inability to maintain the mental energy required to finish the season strong.

"We kind of ran out of people that could do things," he said.

Kamp suggested the Bears became complacent, especially on offense, where they clicked so well much of the season.

"We let up at some point, maybe stopped working as hard," he said. "I think we kind of just thought people were going to let us have shots or something, and it was not that way."

Besides Crabbe, Cobbs and Kravish, the Bears expect the return of 6-10 sophomore forward Richard Solomon, who missed the second half of the season after being declared academically ineligible. Ricky Kreklow, a transfer from Missouri, becomes eligible and will compete for Gutierrez's vacant shooting guard spot.

Among two high school prospects Montgomery signed last fall, the Bears expect an immediate lift from Tyrone Wallace, a four-star combo guard from Bakersfield.

The Bears need to be more physical and they need to develop more depth than they had this season. It became evident down the stretch that some players -- including Gutierrez, the Pac-12 Player of the Year -- were operating on fumes.

"I'm proud of what we did. We won 24 games," Gutierrez said. "I don't think that's easy to do."

The first 24 turned out to be easier than getting No. 25.