BERKELEY -- Once down by as many as eight points in the first half, the California men’s basketball team need something to kick it into gear, and it wouldn’t be a Mike Montgomery shove of Allen Crabbe. No, what Montgomery did was even better than that: He benched the 6-foot-6 swing man, after he started the game 1-for-5 from the field. It worked. After Crabbe sat down for roughly two minutes, the Bears came alive, pulling away for a 10-point halftime lead and an eventual 64-46 win over visiting Utah, their sixth straight victory and eighth of their last nine.
“We didn’t come out with enough energy,” said junior guard Justin Cobbs. “We came out thinking we could out-play them. They’re a solid team. We’ve got to do better things on offense. We need to execute our offense and get the right people the ball.”
With 10:54 left in the first half, and after Crabbe had committed two costly turnovers, Montgomery yanked his star scorer, who had started the game 1-for-4 and failing to create his own shot, with Cal (19-9, 11-5 in the Pac-12) holding an 11-10 lead. The Bears could not seem to get their shot selection down, hitting just one of their first eight from three, and taking eight of their first 11 shots from beyond the arc.
“We didn’t play well early,” Montgomery said. “You have to give credit to Utah. They came in with a good game plan and ran their cuts hard. We did a good job once we figured out where they needed to have it. Offensively, we were spotty. The fact is they were not going to let us run the break, and they didn’t really send people to the offensive glass. They ran four people back. As a result, we were coming down on the push and didn’t really have what we wanted, but we would make a pass and shoot the ball. We didn’t handle that very well. We needed to flow into something.”
With just over 8:30 left in the half, and the Bears down 16-11, Crabbe came back in and nailed the 200th three of his career to put Cal up by one. Over the next 8:14, the Bears outscored Utah 20-6, with Crabbe going 2-for-3 from beyond the arc after he returned. By the half, Cal was up by 10, having shot 11-for-19 after a 1-for-8 start.
The Bears went on a 15-0 run to end the half against a Utes team who came in with nine of its 15 losses on the season come by single digits, including five of its 11 Pac-12 defeats.
“We got moving and we got stops, and as a result, we were able to get up to 10 at half,” Montgomery said. “It is just hard, because we beat them there, and our guys react to stuff like that a little bit.”
Utah (11-16, 3-12) didn’t score a bucket from 4:17 left in the first to 13:58 left in the game -- a span of 10:19 during which the Utes went 0-for-13 -- as the Bears went on a 19-0 run on offense, while contesting nearly every shot on defense.
“it is going to be a rough night when you have combination of turnovers and missed shots,” said Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak. “I don’t know how many of those shots were an inch off. You don’t have much of a chance to win in this environment if you have a combination of those two. That has been a story of our season. Defensively, we were doing a good job; you just can’t defend turnovers.”
Utah closed out the first half having committed five of their eight turnovers of the period in the final 8:26.
“We gave up 15 points in the first half off of turnovers, and we had eight of them,” Krystkowiak said. “If you do the math, that means every time we turned the ball over, they scored two points. I thought defense and game plan was there. But, we continue to have these mental lapses on our passes and decision-making. It was more of a self-inflicted wound than something they did to us.”
Junior big man Richard Solomon played stout position defense on Utah center Jason Washburn, who has just four points on 2-for-6 shooting in the first half, finishing the night 2-for-9 with just four rebounds.
“We were concerned about Washburn,” Montgomery said. “We let him get the one where he spun baseline, which was a no-no. Loveridge has been playing well lately, and we kind of closed on him. Their length causes some problems. They've been pretty good at blocking shots.”
By the time the Utes scored (at 13:56 with a steal and a lay-in by Dakarai Tucker), Cal had gone on a 21-0 run, stretching its lead to 42-26. After taking a seat in the first half, Crabbe went on a 4-for-5 tear, with three of those coming from three-point land.
The junior finished the game with his second double-double of the year, with 15 points on 5-for-12 shooting, and 11 rebounds.
“The ball just happened to come to me tonight,” Crabbe said of his rebounding. “Coach is always talking about how the wings are always leaking out. Utah happened to be one of those teams that sends at least four players for the offensive rebound. It’s a lot easier with David [Kravish] and Richard are boxing someone out and my guy is at half court. Then, I can just run and get the easy rebound.”
As the Bears and Crabbe got rolling, Utah wilted, making just three of its first 18 shots of the second half, and finishing the second stanza 7-for-27 from the field. The Utes finished the game 16-for-55 from the floor and 3-for-17 from three-point range.
Utah’s 29.1 shooting percentage on the night was far from an aberration for the Bears, as over their last htree games, they’ve held opponents to a 30.4 mark (52-for-171).
Utah employed a triangle-and-two defense for the first several possessions, making it difficult for Crabbe and Cobbs to get into a rhythm, and helping the Utes reel the Bears in after Cal started the game on a 7-3 run. Cobbs finished the game with 12 points, shooting 2-for-8 from the field and 8-for-8 from the line, with seven assists. Over the past five games, Cobbs has averaged 6.8 assists.
The 46 points scored by Utah matches a season-low for a Cal opponent this year. Oregon scored 46 in a 48-46 nail-biter Bears win last week.
Cal improved to 7-1 this month, and 13-0 when leading at the half this season.
Crabbe’s three-pointer with 8:14 left in the first half made him the third Golden Bear ever to have made at least 200 career three-pointers, joining Jerome Randle (252) and Ryan Drew (214).