BERKELEY, Calif. – When Allen Crabbe arrives at Haas Pavilion on Wednesday, it will almost certainly be the last home game before he becomes the Pac-12 Player of the Year.
“I don’t know if anybody is more valuable to their team than Allen would be,” head coach Mike Montgomery said Tuesday.
The junior guard leads the conference in scoring, averaging 18.4 points per game, and has a collection of signature performances in California’s biggest games on which he can hang his hat. But Crabbe has expanded and diversified his game beyond the catch-and-shoot specialist he once was, matching the team-high with 54 rebounds during the seven-game winning streak.
“I realized that I don’t have to score my average for us to win. If I’m not going to score, I have to find other ways to help my team. If that’s getting assists or getting rebound, just playing hard, that’s my new mindset,” said Crabbe, who also has 21 assists and 10 steals in that stretch.
He has helped lift a once-floundering team to a guaranteed top-three finish in the Pac-12 and first-round bye in next week’s conference tournament. With a win against Stanford (8 p.m., ESPN2) and losses by Oregon and UCLA would come no less than a share of the regular-season championship.
That all raises the likelihood Crabbe could be playing the last home game of his college career against the Cardinal.
“We’re going to have home games scheduled. We’re not going to play every game on the road,” Montgomery quipped.
“I’ll worry about that later,” he added.
Experts have Crabbe rated as a late first-round pick if he decides to forgo his senior season, but could elevate his stock considerably higher in a draft regarded as one of the weakest in the lottery era.
Crabbe said he has not thought about turning pro.
“I haven’t made a decision at all,” Crabbe said. “I have to focus on the season.”
What is certain is that senior guard Brandon Smith and forwards Robert Thurman and Bak Bak will be playing at home for the final time.
All three have been key contributors, with Bak carving out a niche as a defensive specialist, Thurman providing energy at both ends of the court off the bench, and Smith as the main reserve guard and stabilizing force.
Thurman has progressed from a walk-on fan favorite to the third man in the frontline rotation. Montgomery said he is “our best finisher when he catches it facing the basket,” leading the team in shooting percentage from the field with a limited but effective array of dunks, layups, and a hook shot that left coaches shaking their heads when they asked Thurman to add it to his repertoire. He also has the necessary size to defend bulkier centers, with Montgomery pointing to battles with UCLA center Joshua Smith.
“The thing about Robert is he wants to do the right thing. He just wants to do when he can to help you win,” Montgomery said.
Smith offers experience that gives him a value far beyond his limited statistical production. It isn’t a coincidence to Montgomery that Cal hit its stride in conference play only after Smith returned from a concussion.
The 69-59 loss at Stanford on Jan. 19 was one of the six games Smith missed. Guards Justin Cobbs and Tyrone Wallace combined for 19 points on 6-of-26 shooting, but could have benefited from his presence in the lineup, allowing Cobbs to play off the ball and Wallace to take in some perspective from the bench.
“Whereas Brandon doesn’t put up numbers that are gaudy, he is very, very important to us to allow us to rest people, allow us to change the tempo, allow us to get stabilized because he does that,” Montgomery said. “If somebody was not going good or got sideways, we didn’t have anybody we could put in. We missed him.”
While Smith, Thurman and Bak will all receive rousing cheers before the game, the focus will shift to Crabbe and chants of ‘One more year’ will certainly follow.
Dan Greenspan writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.