Cal can't stage any more vanishing acts

Justin Cobbs (USA Today Sports)

Commentary: Double bill of disappearing Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe and comical Pac-12 officiating leaves California anything but entertained.

PALO ALTO, Calif. – Ladies and gentlemen, the California Golden Bears are proud to present Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe, two magicians of the hardwood capable of materializing seemingly at will.

Fresh off their matinee performance last week at Haas Pavilion, the junior guards cemented their status as the Penn and Tell, the Siegfried and Roy, the Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimarães of the Pac-12 with another presentation of their fabled first-half disappearing act Saturday afternoon in a 69-59 loss to Stanford on the other side of the Bay.

Cobbs was a mesmerizing 0-of-7, Crabbe 1-of-4, each scoring two points in the opening 20 minutes. They missed shots from the wings, the paint, and the block. They deferred to teammates unnecessarily and passed up shots. They were invisible, a far cry from the running and gunning duo that electrified audiences at the start of the season.

When they finally said ‘Abracadabra' and reappeared, it was the greatest show in town. Cobbs found Crabbe in transition for back-to-back buckets, the latter a dramatic and emphatic one-handed dunk just after the break.

Cobbs added a three-pointer, a decisive drive to the lane, and two confident jumpers, seeming to break out of his dismal 14-of-49 shooting slump that covered the first nine quarters of conference play. Then he went too far, trying a lazy pass that was stolen by Chasson Randle and driven coast-to-coast to turn a one-point deficit with a chance to take the lead into the last gasp of the afternoon.

Cobbs finished with 13 points and six assists, Crabbe 14 points and five rebounds. Decent numbers, but not the kind of dynamic production a depleted roster needed in a defining test.

Those two have the talent to make Cal look like a legitimate top-25 team in spurts and moments, against UNLV and Creighton and at UCLA, but then they break out the spinning box or milk can and leave the stage.

Head coach Mike Montgomery wondered why Cobbs wasn't consistently driving against a defender that has undergone three major knee surgeries or Crabbe finding the mismatch against focused defensive attention.

That left Tyrone Wallace to try his hand as the star, attempting 11 shots much to Montgomery's chagrin. In defense of the freshman, if Cobbs and Crabbe aren't willing to shoot, the big men unable to do so consistently, somebody has to try. That is the inherent problem with pairing Cobbs and Crabbe with such a thin roster.

Despite their nature to defer to others at times, they have to be exceptional in almost every game for Cal to win, especially when sharing the stage with another act, the bumbling clowns of Pac-12 officiating, providing Maples Pavilion with a double-bill tantalizing to those wearing red.

While they never broke out their best tomfoolery, the trio of Mike Scyphers, Randy McCall, and Don McAllister did their best to delight Stanford with flip-flopping calls worthy of Cirque du Soleil.

Their finest performance came when Dwight Powell lured Richard Solomon into leaving his feet with the shot clock running down late in the second half, drawing highly-dubious contact and three free-throws to effectively put the game away.

Montgomery openly questioned the physicality of the opposition, wondering why their physical play was rewarded while that of Cal resulted in punishment. Stanford ended up at the line 31 times, making 25, while Cal was just 11-of-15.

But Cal did plenty to entice the referees. Regarding the critical whistle against Solomon, Montgomery opined about the lack of situational awareness, why the junior would feel the need to leave his feet. He didn't have to, exactly the problem with this team at the moment.

They lack the understanding, consciously and unconsciously, to make the necessary plays in a wildly improved conference. Solomon fouls because he doesn't know any better. The same could be said of Crabbe and Cobbs.

The officials made it difficult for Cal to win, but they had nothing to do with the invisible first half from the lead guards.

Hey, at least Cal found a new sales pitch to move tickets even as the season is on the verge of disappearing for good.

Come see Cobbs and Crabbe, the greatest vanishing act in town.

Dan Greenspan writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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