ANAHEIM, Calif. – A funny thing happened on the way to the expected final of the DirecTV Classic between California and Saint Mary's.
Pacific didn't exact ambush the Gaels, instead building a 19-point second-half lead and coasting to a 76-66 win Friday while frustrating star guard Matthew Dellavedova, setting up a championship game showdown with the Golden Bears on Sunday evening (6 p.m., ESPN2) at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Cal head coach Mike Montgomery wasn't surprised, pointing to one big advantage Pacific and its head coach Bob Thomason had over the rest of the field.
"He has had the advantage of taking his team on a summer tour, which gave him 10 additional practices and a bunch of extra games, so I think they are further ahead than probably anybody in this tournament in terms of their ability to perform at a high level," Montgomery said. "Generally you're still in November, you get a lot of rough games because people just aren't ready yet to play at a high level. I think they are playing at a very high level.
"For them to do what they did to Saint Mary's, for example, is pretty impressive."
The Tigers (3-2) spent 10 days in France in August, playing five games during the trip, effectively giving them a two-to-three week head start on the rest of the field. That's something Montgomery would have loved to take advantage of.
After losing standout seniors Harper Kamp and Jorge Gutierrez, Cal (5-0) is still trying to figure things out on offense. Relying almost exclusively on the scoring punch of guards Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, combining to average 41.6 points per game, Montgomery is looking for more from the trio of forwards Richard Solomon, David Kravish, and Robert Thurman.
Solomon broke out for 12 points and nine rebounds in a 68-57 semifinal win over Georgia Tech, but still takes shots that leave Montgomery both visibly bemused and disgusted on the bench.
"Guys got to figure out that this is not just an equal opportunity deal, that everybody gets to shoot it whenever they want," Montgomery said. "There are shot that are good shots for people, and people should have the ball in certain areas."
Further complicating the process is the integration of freshman guard Tyrone Wallace and the absence of guard Ricky Kreklow because of a foot injury.
Kreklow, the redshirt sophomore transfer from Missouri missed more than a month before the season started because of a broken right foot, then aggravated the injury during warm-ups before the quarterfinal against Drake. He is not expected to play against Pacific and will undergo further evaluation once back in Berkeley.
In two games against Pepperdine and at Denver, Kreklow has shown a willingness to get teammates involved. That is a trait that seems to be lacking at times elsewhere, Montgomery said.
"We have a tendency to play one-on-one. We can't win playing one-on-one. If you give two or three of our guys a half a step, they can make good plays at the basket with passes and finishing," Montgomery said. "But if they have to start from scratch and we've holding the ball, we're not going to get very much. Post guys, same thing. If we don't give them angles and they're just playing one-on-one, that's not where we're strong.
"I think they understand the value of it. I think sometimes they just get stuck and hold the ball."
That didn't seem to be an issue in their last game, with 15 assists on 23 field goals against Georgia Tech. But against Pacific, Cal might not have time to figure things out during the game.
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.