1. Simply Unstoppable
Allen Crabbe has been both California’s best player and its biggest liability, often during the same game, prone to prolonged stretches where he gets taken out of the game by opposing defenders and his own passive play. There had to be fear it would happen against Sunday night at Arizona, especially after he picked up a second foul with 6:18 left in the first half.
Instead, the junior guard delivered a scintillating 31-point performance that keyed the 77-69 upset of the No. 7 Wildcats on their home floor. Crabbe looked as comfortable as he has all season, constantly attacking the rim and making all eight of his shots inside the three-point line.
There was no doubt in his shot, no concern in his movements, no questioning in his face. Crabbe was once again the unflinching scorer he had been at the start of the season, again the force capable of taking over a game.
That sort of dominance, bolstered by an equally strong 21 from Justin Cobbs, is what was expected from this team, when Cal was picked third in the pre-season media poll and Crabbe named to the John Wooden Award watch list.
This was different than last Saturday’s upset of Oregon, which was built on defense and opportunistic play. This was precision and control of an unparalleled nature. This was an offensive eruption against one of the best teams in the nation.
This was dominance of a nature that, if bottled and harnessed, can push Cal to the heights it barely missed out on a year ago.
2. In The Zone
The offense stole the show, but a critical defensive adjustment by head coach Mike Montgomery also deserves notice.
After Crabbe picked up that second foul, Montgomery went against his own tendencies by switching to a zone that absolutely befuddled Arizona.
The Wildcats had no idea how to attack it, allowing Cal to capitalize with a 17-2 run to open the second half. It also protected Crabbe by minimizing his defensive responsibilities so he could stay on the court.
This team, with his questionable basketball IQ and limited depth, has frustrated Montgomery, and he has made no secret of that. But, ever the pragmatist, he understood the situation and made the necessary changes, the mark of a great leader.
3. Back On The Bubble?
After upsetting top-10 opponents each of the last two weekends, is it time to start treating Cal as if it is in contention for one of the 37 at-large bids to the NCAA tournament?
Short answer? Ask again Thursday.
Downing UCLA at Haas Pavilion would certainly put it back on the table as a realistic option. The lack of a signature non-conference victory is troubling, as is the brutal home loss to Harvard, but wins over the top three teams in the Pac-12 would go a long way toward mitigating that part of Cal’s resume.
The Bears have plenty of work to do, but Sunday’s result keeps it in play, for a few more days at least.
Dan Greenspan writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.