BERKELEY — It wasn't exactly the game plan, but Cal saw the opportunity to establish a low-post scoring game Saturday against Dartmouth and exploited it to the fullest.
Cal funneled the ball inside with consistent ease, building a 16-point halftime lead on the way to a 98-62 victory in the opening round of the 16th Golden Bear Classic at Haas Pavilion.
Then, as most of the perhaps 2,500 fans dashed for the exits to catch the football Emerald Bowl, Portland rallied to beat Air Force 43-42 in the late game to earn a spot in today's 5 p.m. final against the Bears.
Cal (10-2) hopes to win its own tournament for the 11th time and post an 11th victory before the start of Pac-10 Conference play for the first time since the 1946-47 season.
Portland (7-5), which has beaten Washington and lost in overtime at Oregon, is coached by Eric Reveno, a former player and assistant coach under Mike Montgomery at Stanford. "He's done a fabulous job. I'm really proud of him," Montgomery said. "They are disciplined and organized. They're tough to beat."
Determined to develop an interior game to go with their NCAA-best 3-point shooting attack, the Bears used quickness and ball movement to generate 22 points in the paint by halftime against Dartmouth.
"It really wasn't a game plan,'' said point guard Jerome Randle, who had 15 points and eight assists. "The big guys had good position and we figured out to get them the ball early."
The Bears wound up scoring 52 points from close range, attempting only six 3-pointers in the game's opening 38 minutes.
"We were able to kind of get what we wanted against them. Almost anything we tried was open, offensively," Montgomery said. "There really wasn't any reason to take 3s."
Of course, this was an Ivy League foe that has won just twice in nine games. Punching the ball inside will be more challenging against Arizona and Arizona State next week when the Pac-10 season gets under way.
Still, 7-foot junior center Jordan Wilkes equaled a career high with 11 points, making all three of his shots from the field and the first five of his six free throws.
"Kind of a point of emphasis has been to try to establish a low-post game as we play these next few games and head into conference," said Wilkes, who was averaging just 4.4 points. "It felt good. It aids in building your confidence, which is important for any player.''
Montgomery made sure his starters got plenty of rest. None of them played more than 25 minutes, allowing the subs to total 42 points and 22 rebounds in 95 minutes.
The crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to freshman guard Jorge Gutierrez, who had seven points, five rebounds and two steals on his 20th birthday. Redshirt freshman Omondi Amoke had nine points and 10 rebounds in 14 minutes and sophomore walk-on Eddie Miller had eight points, a career-high.
The only bad news for the Bears was that sophomore backup center Max Zhang took a hard fall in the first half, landing on his right wrist. He was expected to undergo X-rays this evening.
Contact Jeff Faraudo at email@example.com.