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March 17, 2011

Cal visits future Pac-12 foe Colorado in NIT clash

BERKELEY -- Following a first-round victory over No. 5-seed Ole Miss, the Cal basketball team now travels to face future Pac-12 foe Colorado for a Friday night tilt on ESPNU, with tipoff scheduled for 6:30 PM.

"We have a coach who has that scout, and so, we've seen them," said Bears head coach Mike Montgomery. "I haven't seen much. They're good. It'll be a tough turnaround for us, with two days and then going on the road. This is worse than a Seattle-to-Pullman deal, just because of the distance. You don't usually get this. I would have been more comfortable with a Saturday or Sunday game, just to get the chance, but I think we're going to leave tomorrow night."

The No. 1-seed Buffaloes (22-13) downed No. 8-seed Texas Southern 88-74 on Wednesday evening, earning a second-round hosting gig in Boulder.

"We're going to spend a normal day and then get there in the evening, I think, and just prepare there," Montgomery said.

Colorado is led by 6-foot-6, 195-pound sophomore guard Alec Burks, who averages 20.3 points and 6.4 boards per game and owns a 46.4 shooting percentage. Burks is also the Buffaloes' assists leader, averaging 2.88 helpers per contest.

When it comes to the perimeter work, Colorado turns to sniper Levi Knutson. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior guard has hit 74 of 152 shots from three-point land (48.7 percent), and is equally as dangerous inside the arc, shooting 51.8 percent from the floor. Knutson is averaging 11.9 points and 2.9 boards per game.

As a team, Colorado is particularly eagle-eyed, shooting a collective 47.5 percent from the field. 6-foot-5 senior guard Cory Higgins is shooting 44 percent from the floor, averaging 16.1 points and 3.5 boards per game.

"It's a tough turnaround, but they're good. They've got Higgins and Burke, who are really good players, so they're really good scoring-wise," Montgomery said. "They spread the floor. It'll be a tough contest, and I'm sure they'll be fired up coming into the Pac-10. It's a great opportunity for them because they feel like they've been snubbed and should be in the NCAA Tournament, and, as I've said from the get-go, there are teams that should be in the NCAA Tournament, and are certainly better teams, and Colorado may be one of them."

The Bears may face their biggest challenge on the boards without senior Markhuri Sanders-Frison, who's season ended on Tuesday when he separated his right shoulder in practice. The Buffaloes average 35.9 boards per game, led by 7.8 per contest from 6-foot-7, 195-pound freshman Andre Roberson.

Colorado went 8-8 against Big 12 foes, but had a 14-5 record out of conference, including wins over Oregon State, Indiana and Colorado State. The Buffaloes powered through Iowa State and Kansas State in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men's Basketball Championships before falling to Kansas, 85-73, in the semifinal game on March 11.

The Bears lost to the Jayhawks, 78-63, on Dec. 22 in Berkeley. Against the Cyclones, Cal came away with a 76-73 victory on Dec. 4 in Ames, Iowa, while the Buffaloes split the regular season home-and-home conference series before coming out on top in the Big 12 turney. Another common opponent -- New Mexico -- lost to the Bears 89-64 on Nov. 20 in Berkeley, but downed Colorado 89-76 at the Las Vegas Classic on Dec. 22.

"It'll give us a sneak peek of what they are," said Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Allen Crabbe, who scored 20 points in Wednesday's first-round win. "We know that they're a good team, but it's going to be a competitive tournament, and this is going to be a good game for us to win."

With local stalwart St. Mary's getting the boot in the first round courtesy of Kent State, should the Bears win on Friday, they would host a third-round game at Haas Pavilion, but Montgomery isn't thinking that far ahead.

"The answer would be yes, but that's like asking me who's injured and how long he's going to be out. I don't deal with that stuff," Montgomery said. "We just got that game Friday night, and we'll see what we can do."


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