BERKELEY – And now for today’s history lesson, we turn to Cal junior forward David Kravish.
“You get to Madison Square Garden, that’s the big stage,” Kravish said Monday as the Bears’ men’s basketball team prepared for Wednesday’s game against Utah Valley in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament at Haas Pavilion. “That’s where all the big sporting events in history happen. You hear about all the big fights and the big games – Bulls and Knicks and all that stuff – that’s happening at Madison Square Garden. That’s a huge stage to play on.”
And the Bears would love to pay a visit to the Big Apple in a couple weeks, but they first have some not-so-easy business to negotiate. The NIT field is full of quality teams that could have easily made a case for an NCAA Tournament bid, and Cal will have to win three tough games to get to New York City.
“If you look at the NIT field, you’re seeing Georgia, you’re seeing Arkansas, and you’re seeing Georgetown. You’re seeing a lot of people that are pretty good basketball schools over the years,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “There are a lot of people around the country that can play ball. We just have to make sure that we come out ready to play some more basketball.”
Montgomery knows it’s tough to get to Madison Square Garden, where the NIT Final Four is played every year. He led Stanford to the NIT championship in 1991, a run in which all six of the Cardinal’s wins came by 10 points or less.
But Montgomery also knows how valuable the NIT experience can be.
“It was a lot of fun,” Montgomery said. “You have that chance to try to compete and win a tournament, and that’s what you should be looking forward to. If you’re able to win a game, for any of us in the tournament, you get more excited as time goes on because it becomes more fun, more of an adventure.”
Cal won the NIT championship in 1999 behind tournament MVP Sean Lampley. The Bears also reached the quarterfinals in 1987 and 2000.
If the Bears get by Utah Valley, they will host a second-round game at Haas Pavilion against either Arkansas or Indiana State.
“Not every team gets to play an extra game in the postseason, so it’s an opportunity to take advantage of,” Kravish said. “We came here to go to school and play basketball. If you have a chance to keep playing basketball, you have to take advantage of it. You should be happy about it.”
For Kravish, the NIT is a second chance for the Bears to demonstrate to the world that they are more like the team fans saw in the first half of the season than the second. After a strong preseason and a 5-0 start to Pac-12 Conference play, the Bears struggled in the second half of the campaign. Still, they won their regular-season finale over Colorado to earn the No. 4 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament and a first-round bye, then dropped a hard-fought 59-56 decision to the Buffs in the quarterfinals.
Cal is the second seed in their region in the NIT, behind SMU.
“I think if the Pac-12 Conference had been longer, people would have seen more positive results from us because I think we were taking steps in the right direction in terms of overall attitude and chemistry,” Kravish said. “It’s a chance to prove the kind of team we really are as opposed to the team we had been playing like.”