(Photo credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
California has an opportunity to equal last year's win total just 11 days into the new season when the Golden Bears host Montana State on Thursday night in Berkeley, Calif.
Cal (2-1) went just 3-29 a year ago, prompting a coaching change and the importing of key transfers who have combined to produce early wins over St. Thomas and Cal State Bakersfield, sandwiching a home loss to Pacific.
As they wait for Memphis transfer Keonte Kennedy to recover from a preseason injury, the Golden Bears got a combined 50 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists from newcomers Jalen Cone, Jaylon Tyson and Fardaws Aimaq in their most impressive effort of the young season, an 83-63 home thrashing of Bakersfield on Monday.
Mix in Devin Askew, himself a former transfer, and the Golden Bears gave their first real reason for optimism after hearing new coach Mark Madsen boast of a potential record-setting improvement this season.
Cone, a transfer from Northern Arizona, was Cal's big gun against Bakersfield, matching his career high with seven 3-pointers on a 23-point night.
Tyson, whose Cal debut was delayed by one game as the school successfully appealed the denial of his eligibility after he moved from Texas Tech, led the Golden Bears in rebounds (12) and assists (seven) to complement 13 points.
The play of the new guys has excited the Cal fan base.
"The atmosphere tonight was unbelievable," Madsen said after the Monday win. "We are going to fill up Haas Pavilion. If they like the style of play and they see that you are winning, it'll be impossible to get a ticket."
While Cal was one of the nation's least successful teams a year ago, Montana State won a second straight Big Sky Conference tournament championship to earn another NCAA Tournament berth.
The Bobcats (1-1) opened this season with a 103-63 shellacking of Northwest Indian College before seeing a late rally fall a bit short in a 71-68 defeat at Seattle on Saturday.
Coach Matt Logie found reasons to be encouraged in the loss.
"I was really proud of our response to adversity against a good and experienced team on the road," he said. "There's a lot to build on for us moving forward."
Junior guard Brian Goracke had a team-high 18 points against Seattle and leads the team in scoring through two games with a 15-point average.
--Field Level Media