In the minutes after Cal's 64-49 win at Oregon last Saturday, an oddly pathetic exchange went out over the team's radio broadcast.
The Bears were pleading with their fans.
Coach Mike Montgomery ended his postgame radio interview by imploring folks to come out to Haas Pavilion this week for the team's final two home games, Thursday against Arizona and Saturday against Arizona State.
Roxy Bernstein, the team's play-by-play announcer, was practically begging fans to come out and get behind the team.
"Where are the fans?" Bernstein asked. "They are missing."
Understand now, the Bears are in first place in the Pac-10.
Understand, too, they have been atop the Pac-10 most of this season and, with three games left, are in position to win the regular-season crown for the first time in 50 years.
So if you're not eligible for the senior discount on anything you want to buy, you probably haven't seen Cal win a championship.
And yet, the response to the success thus far has been widespread apathy.
Despite a student population of more than 35,000 and a living alumni population of more than 430,000, there have been zero sellouts during a season that likely will conclude with Cal's first championship since 1960, before the Pac-10 or the Pac-8, when it was a member of something called the Athletic Association of Western Universities.
The percentage of capacity for the Bears at home, where they are 13-1, is slightly less than 75 percent — considerably lower than that of the almost 91 percent the Warriors get at Oracle Arena. It hasn't mattered that Haas (11,877) is smaller than Oracle (19,596), that the Bears have the vastly superior record or that they have the cheaper ticket.
The Warriors, for crying out loud, are routing the Bears at the gate.
Thus the shameless pleas, urging Bay Area fans, a group with a reputation for gravitating toward winning teams, to please start gravitating toward this winning team.
Perhaps some of the low interest is backlash from this utterly unimpressive season within the Pac-10. The conference almost certainly won't receive more than two bids for the NCAA Tournament and conceivably could be limited to one.
Then there is the lack of zing from the Bears, who entered the season as a Top 25 team but haven't been able to sustain any momentum. They have built their 18-9 record (10-5 in the Pac-10) without a win streak of more than three games.
Cal's confidence wavers from game to game, week to week. The Bears' inability to shake their nagging self-doubt was apparent again Thursday in an 80-64 loss at Oregon State, a 12-14 squad that will have a hard time reaching the NIT.
Although point guard Jerome Randle is one of the most exciting players in the country, the Bears — smallish, experienced and relying mostly on jump shots — still don't have an identity. Nor do they have the kind of homegrown, high-visibility star of yesteryear, such as Leon Powe or Jason Kidd, each of whom built a local following during his high school career.
Put simply, Cal basketball has not gained enough traction to become a must-see event for the local sports fan.
Yet the Bears are, as Montgomery points out, "still in first place." Montgomery is doing precisely what he was hired to do, as he did at Stanford where his teams consistently won 20 games and made the NCAA Tournament. In his second season at Cal, he has the Bears winning two of every three games and on course for their second consecutive trip to the tournament.
When athletic director Sandy Barbour introduced Montgomery in April 2008, she talked about winning with a stable, clean program and playing in the NCAAs. She didn't refer to charisma, or say anything about Montgomery exciting prospective recruits by bringing an irresistible style of hoops to Berkeley. She knew his Stanford teams were not aesthetically pleasing.
She also knew they won. Year after year, Montgomery's Stanford teams were fundamentally sound, low on frills, contending for Pac-10 titles and spanking the Bears.
So now that Montgomery's Cal team is assured of a winning conference record for the second straight year — predecessor Ben Braun managed one winning record over his final five seasons — his biggest challenge may be stirring up the fan base.
"That place better be filled up," Montgomery said over the airwaves, referring to Haas this week.
If not, presume the locals still haven't bought in. And wonder when or if they will.
Contact Monte Poole at firstname.lastname@example.org.