PREMIUM ANALYSIS: Bench Steps Up
LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- After Thursday’s conference-opening loss to UCLA, California head coach Mike Montgomery said that, frankly, he just didn’t have enough healthy bodies, with Brandon Smith (concussion), Ricky Kreklow (foot) and Christian Behrens (ACL) on the shelf due to injury. On Saturday, Montgomery put eight different players on the floor against USC, and came away with his first Pac-12 win of the season, as the Golden Bears rode Allen Crabbe past the Trojans, 72-64 to earn a split in L.A.
“For us, we needed this badly at this point in time,” said Montgomery.
Crabbe led all scorers with 27 points on 9-of-12 shooting, 1-for-3 from three-point land and -- perhaps most importantly -- 8-of-8 from the free-throw line, where Cal shot 21-for-26 as a team, while USC went just 8-for-18.
“He’s going to be a lot better if we just don’t try to throw it to him on one pass and expect him to play,” Montgomery said. “If we get the ball moving, it’s going to be a lot harder to guard him, and we’ve got to learn that. We get stuck on one thing and we don’t tend to move it. If we get it moving around, he’s hard to guard because he can curl and get to the basket and drop it to the bigs.”
All eight Bears who saw the floor recorded at least two points, as Cal (9-5, 1-1 in the Pac-12) broke a run of 98:05 of game time over the past four games and change in which it failed to hit a three-pointer. After the initial trey by Jeff Powers at 7:58 left in the first half, the junior guard nailed another from long distance, finishing with six points as he helped to give a bit of rest to overworked Crabbe.
“I’m really proud of Jeff Powers,” Montgomery said. “You knew he was the only guy we had off the bench. He said I was a little bit nervous before the game because he knew he had to play. He was the only sub I had on the perimeter. Came in, knocked down a three, and had a big smile on his face. We’re 5-for-8 from three and that’s huge. Huge.”
Not to be left out of the three party was freshman Tyrone Wallace. Wallace went 2-for-3 from beyond the arc, including a clutch trey with the shot clock winding down to make it 66-58, with 1:16 left in the game.
“Tyrone’s three late and Jeff’s two threes gives you a chance to get other people involved,” Montgomery said. “You’re not always going to the same two places.”
Wallace finished the night with 10 points, four boards, three assists, a block and two steals.
“Tyrone really gave us a boost with the shots he made down the stretch,” Montgomery said. “John [Montgomery] was in the gym with him this week just giving him confidence and getting him comfortable with his shot. We do need to shoot in context, though. We need to make sure we develop a rhythm when we’re doing things. I mean, we go 5-for-8 after going 0-for-8 in the previous two games, and it’s a whole different ballgame.”
Crabbe wound up accounting for Cal’s first four points of the game, and at one point, 11 straight for the Bears in the second half, and appeared much more comfortable and assertive from the early goings. Crabbe hit his first three shots of the game, and finished the night on a 6-for-6 tear from the field and a 6-for-6 streak from the charity stripe in the final 16:05 of the game.
From 14:14 to 9:40, Crabbe scored all of Cal’s 11 points, and pushed the lead to 53-47, doing most of his work after picking up his third foul with 12:14 left.
All of the Bears’ first eight points came from within the paint, while the Trojans’ first seven came from two three-pointers and a free throw. USC started the game hitting two straight threes on open looks, but went just 0-for-9 the rest of the way.
The Cal bench outscored itself from two nights ago, as the backups accounted for 10 points in total, while scoring just four against the Bruins on Thursday.
After the Bears got up by as many as eight points twice in the second half, but still could not keep USC (6-9, 1-1) at bay -- at one point early in the second half, allowing the Trojans to go on a 7-0 run -- Crabbe -- who petered out towards the end of the UCLA game, when he was forced to carry the load when no one else could hit a shot -- took ownership of the floor, and the rest of the team followed suit on the defensive end, recording five of its seven blocks after the half.
Despite a pair of late blocks from David Kravish on DeWayne Dedmon, the Trojans were able to pull within one point with 4:56 left, thanks to a lay-in by Chass Bryan, who went 2-for-5 with a steal in the second stanza of the game, but then Wallace hit his first of two late-game threes, nailing a fall-away three from the right side to put the Bears up by four, with an assist by Crabbe, who had three helpers on the day. That three kicked off a 15-8 run over the final five minutes, which saw Bryan miss two threes.
“I think we have to get a lot more out of David Kravish,” Montgomery said. “They were physical with us, today, but I thought Justin [Cobbs] handled it well, and I thought Allen really did a great job. You have to be happy with the eight rebounds that Robert [Thurman] got. He made a couple of questionable decisions during the game, but he gave a good effort.”