LAS VEGAS — It wasn't a comfortable stretch for the Cal basketball team, but first-year coach Mike Montgomery almost welcomed the chance to see how his Golden Bears would react.
The Bears had scored just one field goal in more than 91/2 minutes, their 20-point lead over Nevada-Las Vegas reduced to nine. The Thomas & Mack Center faithful were getting crazy as the game entered its final 5 minutes.
"It got a little dicey," Montgomery said. "The crowd got into it and they got it down to nine, and we made a couple plays. That was something I was looking to see if we would be able to do. And we did."
The Bears scored on their next eight possessions, rebuilt the lead and cruised home with an impressive 73-55 victory over the Runnin' Rebels to remain undefeated in five games.
A seven-point favorite, UNLV (5-1) lost at home for the first time in 20 games and just the fourth time in 46 outings on its own floor since the start of the 2006-07 season.
Cal plays in the final tonight of the Global Sports Classic against unbeaten Florida State (6-0), a 58-47 winner over Cincinnati in Friday's late semifinal game.
The Bears hadn't really been challenged in their first four games but delivered in the clutch against the Runnin' Rebels. They also played their best defensive game of the year against a team that hadn't been held to fewer than 65 points this season.
While the second-half offensive drought revved up the crowd, UNLV never really got back into the game because the Bears did not back down defensively.
"We were expecting them to make a big run in the second half, but I felt like we kept our composure," said point guard Jerome Randle, who had 18 points, a season-high eight assists and six rebounds.
Patrick Christopher, whose primary assignment involved shadowing UNLV star guard Wink Adams, said he hopes tough defense can eventually define this team.
"It's kind of like night and day from last year's team," the junior guard said. "Most of the games last year we'd be winning in the first half, then kind of give it up in the second half. Defense wins ballgames."
Christopher's work helped limit Adams, the club's top scorer the past two seasons, to 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting.
"He's getting better. He's working at it," Montgomery said of Christopher, who also contributed 12 points and seven rebounds. "He's taking pride in the fact that he can do that."
Forward Jamal Boykin contributed 15 points and eight rebounds, Theo Robertson had 12 points, and freshman guard Jorge Gutierrez, who played for Findlay Prep in Las Vegas a year ago, came off the bench to score a career-best 10 points with five rebounds.
Forward Omondi Amoke had eight rebounds in eight minutes and 7-foot-21/2 center Max Zhang had three blocked shots in effective relief when starter Jordan Wilkes got into early foul trouble.
UNLV coach Lon Kruger conceded his club was thoroughly outplayed.
"We found ourselves reacting more than dictating for the entire night," he said. "Cal's guys played great and we didn't respond like we have to when you play a group that's playing like they did."
Contact Jeff Faraudo at firstname.lastname@example.org.