Berkeley, Calif. • Playing without center Richard Solomon forced California coach Mike Montgomery to go to a smaller lineup.
The Golden Bears never missed a beat in their NIT opener against Utah Valley.
David Kravish had 14 points, 10 rebounds and matched his career high with five blocks, Jordan Mathews added 13 points off the bench and California beat the Wolverines 77-64 Wednesday night.
“It’s different because Richard demands a presence with his rebounding and athleticism on both sides of the court,” said Kravish, who went 7 of 9 from the floor. “We moved the ball really well, everybody got to the basket and the floor was spaced. It was good.”
The short-handed Bears (20-13) were missing their top interior presence in Solomon, the Pac-12’s leading rebounder who missed the game with a concussion and watched from the bench. Montgomery is hopeful Solomon can play in the second round.
Cal was already without Solomon’s backup, 7-footer Kameron Rooks, who is on crutches after a season-ending left foot injury sustained in late February.
Without his two big men, Montgomery opted for a smaller look and started four guards, using 6-6 Ricky Kreklow at the power forward spot.
It worked well, as the trio of Justin Cobbs, Jabari Bird and Tyrone Wallace repeatedly beat the Wolverines down the lane and with timely buckets from the perimeter.
Cobbs finished with 13 points and seven assists, Bird scored 11 and Wallace had nine points for California, which used a run late in the first half and another in the second half to shake the pesky Wolverines.
“They execute extremely well,” Montgomery said. “We knew what we were going to get. Had we not shot the ball, it might have gotten dicey.”
The second-seeded Bears will host No. 3 seed Arkansas in the second round Monday night. Cal beat the Razorbacks 85-77 on Nov. 25 in the Maui Invitational.
Holton Hunsaker scored 22 points for seventh-seeded Utah Valley (20-12), which lost in its NIT debut.
“Cal got out of the gate a little too quick for us,” Wolverines coach Dick Hunsaker said. “We kept it pretty close for a while ... but we never really were able to grab a contending position after late in that first half.”
It was an abrupt and disappointing end to the season for Utah Valley. Making their first appearance in the Western Athletic Conference, the Wolverines won the regular-season title before getting knocked off in the conference tournament by Idaho.
Hunsaker, who had 13 points in the first half, and Ben Aird kept Utah Valley close until the Wolverines wore down after cutting Cal’s lead to 49-43 with 15 minutes left.
The Bears, who led by nine at halftime, made three consecutive 3s as part of an 11-0 run, including two from Jeff Powers, who finished with 10 points.
Cal extended its lead to 70-52 following back-to-back 3s from Mathews before Montgomery cleared his bench.