Consecutive Comebacks Have Bears Thinking Postseason
California's weekend in Oregon featured two games that could not have started much worse or ended much better.
The result was two impressive come-from-behind victories that put the Bears in position to possibly secure the No. 4 seed for the Pac-10 tournament.
"A road sweep is pretty good for us, really puts us in a position that most people probably didn't think we could've gotten this year," coach Mike Montgomery said after Cal came back from 14 points down to beat Oregon State 87-76 on Feb. 26.
"We can't have a losing season, can't have a losing conference season, just about guarantees us some sort of postseason opportunity."
In fact, the Bears have assured themselves of a winning season and seem almost a sure thing to earn a spot in the 32-team NIT. That's if they can't do better still.
Montgomery said he's not sure any team, except perhaps Washington (which beat Cal decisively twice) would welcome playing the Bears in the conference tournament.
"On any given game," he said, "I think guys feel they can beat anybody, and I think that's true. It's proven itself out."
Cal achieved that in Oregon, despite two lackluster starts. The Bears trailed 40-24 at Oregon with four minutes left in the first half and were down 30-16 at Oregon State with 10 1/2 minutes left in the first half.
In both cases, tougher defense led to the points needed to get over the hump.
"We came in at halftime and the coaches said we needed to pick it up," freshman guard Allen Crabbe said after the win at Oregon State. "Our leaders gathered us together and said we need to play more like we're capable.
"We just came out and did what we did at Oregon: played harder and with more intensity. That's what got us the victory."
NOTES & QUOTES
Cal's basketball program was hit with two years' probation by the NCAA after its coaching staff was found guilty of making 365 impermissible phone calls to recruits during a seven-month span in 2008, just after coach Mike Montgomery was hired. The penalties do not include scholarship reduction or postseason ban, primarily because the NCAA was satisfied that the infractions were not intentional and that the university caught the violations, self-reported them and assessed its own sanctions before the NCAA ruling. The stiffest penalty Cal received was a reduction of allowable paid on-campus for visiting recruits (a limit of five) in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
The Bears need four more victories to give coach Mike Montgomery his 13th straight season (including his final 10 at Stanford) with at least 20 wins.
Cal completed its first conference road sweep of the season to finish the year 4-5 on the road in Pac-10 play. The win at Oregon was the Bears' seventh straight over the Ducks, and the victory over Oregon State snapped a two-year drought in Corvallis.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Defeats the Bears suffered from Jan. 27-Feb. 26 in games in which freshman G Allen Crabbe was healthy enough to play the entire way. Cal was 7-4 over that span, but Crabbe missed two entire games and much of a third after suffering a concussion at Washington.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We want to aim for the stars and land on the clouds. We'd love to be in that March Madness. If it's the NIT, as long as we're playing, I think this group of guys will be satisfied with that." -- Senior C Markhuri Sanders-Frison.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
vs. Stanford, March 5
KEY MATCHUPS: Cal struggled to contain Stanford freshman F Dwight Powell, who scored 20 points in the Cardinal's 82-68 win at Maples Pavilion on Jan. 2. Stanford junior SG Jeremy Green spent most of January in an offensive funk, but he was one of the Pac-10's hottest players in February. Figure Cal's Jorge Gutierrez will get that defensive assignment. This will be senior C Markhuri Sanders-Frison's final regular-season home game for the Bears.
FUTURES MARKET: The Bears landed a recruit who figures to provide immediate help next season when 6-foot-5 combo guard De'End Parker, a sophomore at City College of San Francisco, gave them an oral commitment. Parker plays point guard for CCSF, which entered the Northern California playoffs at 27-1 and with the state's No. 1 ranking. But he could play any of three perimeter positions for the Bears and gives them a physical player with a defensive mind-set and a selfless approach to offense. Parker got his unusual first name because he was the last of 10 children in his family and his mother declared simply, "You're De'End."
Freshman G Allen Crabbe totaled 45 points in the Bears' wins in Oregon in late February, hitting a combined 10 of 16 from the 3-point arc. He had 28 of those points in the second half to fuel both comebacks.
Senior G Jorge Gutierrez had 23 points and five assists in the Feb. 24 win over Oregon, then contributed 14 points, nine assists, four rebounds, four steals and two blocks at Oregon State on Feb. 26.
Sophomore PG Brandon Smith scored a career-high 18 points and hit the go-ahead 3-pointer in the Feb. 24 win over the Ducks. He totaled 14 assists for the two games in the state of Oregon.