SAN JOSE -- Cal sophomore Ricky Kreklow can barely believe he'll play in an NCAA tournament game on Thursday against UNLV.
The transfer from Missouri has endured a season sabotaged by surgery on his right foot the first week of October. Three times since, he suffered setbacks.
"You kind of go from accepting the fact that you're looking ahead to next year," Kreklow said, "to the point where it was healed enough there really wasn't any risk to injuring it again."
Expected to be a starting guard this season, Kreklow instead has played a total of 118 minutes spread over seven games -- two in November, two in December, one in January and now the Bears' past two games.
"I feel badly for Rick," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said Wednesday. "He's a tough kid, which is something we don't necessarily have. He's not anywhere close to where he would have been."
But last Thursday at the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, Kreklow came off the bench to give the Bears a lift by hitting two 3-point baskets against Utah.
"He's a game-changing type player, the way he hustles, the stuff he does that doesn't necessarily show up on the stat sheet," senior guard Brandon Smith said. "Offensively, it feels like things flow better when he's out there. Defensively, he's all over the place."
But after undergoing surgery in October to have a screw put in the bone, Kreklow suffered setbacks on three occasions. The last time, on Jan. 3 at UCLA, he landed on someone else's foot and re-cracked a bone in his foot.
"I didn't know what was to come of that, I just knew it wasn't good because it was already pretty fragile," Kreklow said. "The screw prevented the bone from breaking all the way."
He sat out two more months before returning to play 13 minutes in the regular-season finale against Stanford. Montgomery explained there was no avenue for Kreklow to regain a year of eligibility by not playing again.
"To get him back on the floor I think it very valuable for him," said Montgomery. "He's gotten better every day. He can help us."
"Hypothetically, only from the standpoint that it would mean we would have won our first game," he said. "I'd like to play the Lady Griz if I could. Maybe not. I don't want to do that."
For Montgomery to meet up with his ex-school, Cal will need to beat UNLV and Montana will have to upset Syracuse.
"I think that would be fabulous," he said. "It would be great for Montana. It would be great for us. It would be perfect."