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Campus comfy for Cal coach

As much as Mike Montgomery likes golf, he discovered he had too much time to play. He missed working long hours.

After a failed two-year run in the NBA and more than a year away from coaching, he found work on a new bench and is busy rebuilding the California basketball program.

"When I went in the NBA, I expected to be there longer," said Montgomery, who went 34-48 in both seasons of coaching the Golden State Warriors before mutually parting ways with the franchise in August 2006.

His only regret, he said, was not winning more. That’s no longer a big problem.

In many ways, Montgomery and UNLV coach Lon Kruger are similar. Both have coached more than 20 years at the college level, and both lasted only two full years in the NBA. Kruger led the Atlanta Hawks from 2000 to 2003 before returning to a college campus.

A marquee coaching matchup awaits when the Rebels (5-0) host the Golden Bears (4-0) at 5 p.m. today at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The third round of the eight-team Global Sports Classic is a showdown featuring four unbeaten teams. Cincinnati (4-0) will play Florida State (5-0) at 7:30 p.m. The winners of today’s games meet at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, after the losers play at 5.

UNLV, which has a 19-game home winning streak, is coming off an 80-67 victory at Texas-El Paso on Monday.

Cal has won its games against North Carolina A&T, Texas-Pan American, San Francisco and Pacific by an average of 21.8 points.

As of Wednesday, the Bears ranked fourth in the nation in field-goal percentage (54.4) and first in 3-point accuracy (58.8).

Senior guard Wink Adams, the Rebels’ scoring leader at 16.2 points per game, was called "extremely competitive" by Montgomery, and that also should describe this game.

UNLV is shooting 43.7 percent from the field, including 44-for-130 (33.8 percent) from 3-point range, but its defense has been strong.

"They shoot a lot of 3s — half their shots are 3s. They try to disrupt you with their defense," Montgomery said of the Rebels. "And they’re way more effective at home, like most teams. Their aggressiveness goes way up at home."

In reality, half of UNLV’s shots are not 3-pointers, just 46.6 percent of them. But Montgomery’s point illustrates where Cal might have an advantage.

The Bears are bigger with 7-foot center Jordan Wilkes, 6-6 forward Theo Robertson and 6-8 Jamal Boykin. The backcourt is handled by 6-5 point guard Patrick Christopher and 5-10 Jerome Randle, who averages 19.8 points and will match up against Adams.

"Their guards are really good, and they have good size inside," Kruger said. "These are two good games for everyone this weekend to measure where we’re all at right now."

Montgomery left Stanford in 2004 after 18 seasons. When he exited the NBA earlier than expected, nobody targeted his next job being at Cal, Stanford’s biggest rival.

Ben Braun was fired as coach after the Bears went 17-16 and finished ninth in the Pacific-10 Conference. Montgomery stepped in and inherited a team not completely devoid of talent. He starts five juniors.

"I don’t know what I expected, to be honest," he said. "When you are starting from scratch with everything, it’s a different phenomenon because everything you do is new.

"You don’t have any veteran players, anybody who knows what you are trying to do. But the kids have been very positive and receptive. We’ve got a lot of youth out there, a lot of kids who haven’t played at the college level.

"We’ll be better in December than we are in November, and hopefully better in January than we are in December. It’s just baby steps at this point in time."

NOTES — UNLV has a 3-0 series lead against California. The Rebels won the last meeting 73-72 on Dec. 2, 2004 in Berkeley. … UNLV is seeking its first 6-0 start since the 1992-93 season.

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2907.

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