Cobbs takes up slack for two ailing starters

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BERKELEY -- California sophomore wing Allen Crabbe had a defender in his face, had already picked up his dribble, and the shot clock was winding down. Less than six seconds left. He head-faked. He shot-faked. He finally went up for a shot, and at the peak of his leap, he looked to his right. There was Justin Cobbs, a sneeze away from the half-court line.
Crabbe passed. One second left on the shot clock. Cobbs caught the ball at his chest, set his feet and, icily calm, fired. Good. From well past 30 feet. With 4:25 left in the game. That was Cobbs' 10th basket in 12 tries, his third three in three tries. Simply put, the sophomore point guard could not miss, and neither could the Bears, who downed visiting UC Santa Barbara, 70-50 at Haas Pavilion for their eighth straight win at home to open the season, thanks to a game- and career-high 25 points from the Minnesota transfer.
"Honestly, I went up, and I was going to shoot it, but the ball was slipping a little bit, so I was going to get a bad shot off," Crabbe said. "When I passed it to him, I didn't realize that there were only two seconds."
"Basically, he wanted to give me the extra shot attempt," Cobbs laughingly interjected. "He didn't want to shoot the bad shot."
"But, he made it," Crabbe smiled.
"It just happened to go in," Cobbs said.
Before tip-off, starting two-guard Jorge Gutierrez lay on the training table, unable to even walk out to the court due to food poisoning. The task of guarding the nation's fourth-leading scorer in Gauchos guard Orlando Johnson fell on Cobbs' broad shoulders.
"Justin Cobbs was spectacular," said head coach Mike Montgomery. "The match-up of Jorge on Orlando Johnson, we thought that was a match-up that we had. Justin accepted the challenge and did a great job."
Cobbs finished the night 10-of-12 from the field, 3-of-3 from three and 2-of-2 from the line, chipping in two rebounds, two assists and a block. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Los Angeles native wasn't the only Bear who stepped up in the absence of Gutierrez and sophomore Richard Solomon. Five Cal players saw more than 30 minutes on the floor, and all but two scored at least three points with more than half of the starting lineup either not playing or at less than 100 percent -- including starting forward Harper Kamp.
"I just was in a rhythm tonight," Cobbs said. "Just knowing Jorge was out, and just knowing that Harper was a little under the weather this afternoon, I had to go out there and pick up the slack and be aggressive."
Solomon -- the Bears' starting center -- was relegated to street clothes with a stress fracture in his foot. Kamp and 6-foot-10 junior Robert Thurman were fresh off receiving intravenous fluids the night before.
"Somebody needed to step up tonight, and everybody got a little more confident when they came in, that they had to do a little something to help out tonight, missing those two important factors on our team," Crabbe said, referring to Gutierrez and Solomon. "I believe everybody did a really good job tonight."
The Bears were hurt, they were sick, and they were light two and a half starters, with Kamp giving it all he could.
"I'm very pleased," said Montgomery. "It was a very, very good team effort. We knew about Richard Sunday, but we certainly didn't know about, we had three other kids -- Harper, Jorge and really Robert -- spent all night throwing up Sunday night. Two of them were in the health service, getting IVs. Harper was able to get home after pregame and get a little nap, and felt OK. Jorge was dead. He was laying in the training room and couldn't go. That was kind of a surprise. I thought the kids really responded well."
Cal (10-2) found some kind of mojo out of the wreckage, and began the game shooting 80 percent from the field to take a commanding 21-7 lead.
"It shows that we have other weapons on the team," Crabbe said. "Once everybody realized Jorge wasn't going to be able to suit up, everybody got it into their heads that they would just have to step up -- each and every player -- and that's what we did tonight, each and every one of us."
Cal sunk a season-high 11 three-pointers in 20 attempts, and drained its first six three-point attempts before missing for the first time with 3:53 left in the first half. The six treys equaled or exceeded the team's full-game total for seven of the Bears' first 11 games of the season.
UC Santa Barbara (5-4) saw Cal start the game on a 14-2 run over the first 5:41, capped off by a Brandon Smith strip of Johnson, who had just swiped the ball from true freshman David Kravish. Smith went coast-to-coast for the lay-in to get the crowd buzzing, but it was Crabbe who brought the Cal faithful to their feet, sinking a three, which just barely touched the last threads of the net as it went through.
Crabbe was not on as much of a rampage as Cobbs, but he still had one of his finer shooting nights of his season, sinking 7-of-15 from the field and 5-of-9 from three, with his first three buckets coming from beyond the arc. Crabbe also chipped in six rebounds and two assists in 38 minutes.
"We just take it as a regular game," Crabbe said of missing so much of the team's regular production. "Of course, we want all the pieces of the puzzle when we're out there every game, but we have other weapons who can step up on any given night and coach was just saying, winning a game like this, you've got to have people who need to step up and perform. Obviously, Justin did a great job tonight, for us, and everybody just played their role tonight, with a little extra."
With Solomon out, Kravish got his third collegiate start, and played with the most physicality and confidence that he's displayed this season, pulling down a game-high nine boards with two blocks and three steals, with his seven points in a season-high 34 minutes all but an afterthought.
"Kravish is doing well," Cobbs said. "He's boarding the ball well, he's scoring the ball well. He's making little mistakes, not stepping to the ball and getting lay-ups, but I think he's doing well for a freshman. We can't complain."
With 12 minutes to go in the first half, Kravish forced 7-foot-3 Gauchos center Greg Somogyi to change the angle on his shot from the low post, forcing a miss. Crabbe pulled down the board and pushed it up to Smith, who Kravish in the mid-post. Kravish pulled up for a delayed jumper, showing great discipline and maturity with a defender in his face, and sank the shot while drawing a foul from Somogyi, converting the and-one to put the Bears ahead 22-7.
"I like David Kravish as a player," Montgomery said. "He's good. He fits seamlessly into everything we do. He gets his hands on a lot of balls and he doesn't worry about mistakes. He just plays. I really like David. I think he's been very good."
Without Gutierrez to defend Johnson -- who came into the game averaging 22.4 points per game -- Cobbs displayed tenacity and physicality against the 6-foot-5, 205-pound scorer, holding him to nine points on 4-of-13 shooting.
"He took the challenge," Montgomery said. "What I was concerned about was obviously, any time you challenge a guy like that, that he's going to reach and try to not let him score at all, and then you get in foul trouble, and then that's the worst thing you can do. He's strong. Justin's strong, and Orlando's strong. I don't think that Orlando got an advantage that way, and he didn't get much going. Justin was there, and we did get help for him, occasionally -- not a lot, but we had people in a position to help -- and Orlando passed it out. He wasn't selfish, and he tried to pass it and find the next guy, but Justin took a challenge, and it was good to see."
Even when Johnson found open men on the outside, Cobbs responded, blocking a three from Kyle Boswell with 12 seconds left before the break.
"I'm just learning from Jorge," Cobbs said. "Jorge's a great defender, and watching him every day in practice, just learning the little things he does -- take away space, slide your feet, be straight up -- just learning the little things, that helped me tonight. Orlando's a good player. He's averaging 22, so you just take away his space and make him shoot bad shots."
Johnson wasn't the only Gaucho taking bad shots. UC Santa Barbara was 9-of-27 from the field in the first half, and 2-for-7 from three-point range. But, as the Bears cooled off a bit towards the end of the half and coming out after the break -- shooting 5-for-13 in the last five minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second -- the Gauchos began to make things interesting. Over that same span, UC Santa Barbara sank 8-of-12 and cut the lead to 10 points.
Cal stormed back over the next 10 minutes, going on a 13-2 run, during which Kamp pulled down three of his five boards and scored two of his eight points.
"He was pretty under the weather," Crabbe said. "I know for him to compete and come out for us, it means a lot. He did a great job while he was in."
Kamp played 33 hard-fought minutes and while he was just 2-of-7 from the floor, he hit each of his team-high four free-throw attempts, drawing contact down low despite his illness.
Cobbs started the game in the Cal backcourt with Smith, who dished out a team-high seven assists while scoring eight points, pulling down three boards and tallying a steal. Smith was 3-of-7 from the floor, but hit 2-of-4 from three.
"Brandon gives you a little more leeway to be more aggressive on offense, looking to score the ball," Cobbs said. "With Jorge out, you've got to be aggressive, because he's our second leading scorer. We've got to pick up the slack and go out there and be aggressive and make shots. Tonight, I was able to do that. Also, he helps Allen get shots, because without Allen shooting the ball, we're not going to be a very good team. Making sure he's getting the ball and getting good shots, we'll be fine.
Smith also helped to open the game back up in the middle of the second half, dishing out three assists, pulling down one rebound and hitting big with a clutch three.
With Kamp bottled up in the high post, the ball went around the horn and finally to Smith. Finding nothing, Smith sent a pass to Cobbs, but the ball was tipped by guard Nate Garth. Fortuitously, the errant ball found Cobbs, who fired to Crabbe for the dish to Smith for the three, giving the Bears a 21-point lead with 13:13 left in the game.
"Brandon, I thought, that's the best Brandon's played," Montgomery said. "Crabbe was able to score the ball. We knew that somebody was going to have to step up. Harper showed a lot of courage. He was obviously tired. Then, David was good, so we got good minutes off the bench. It was a good win."
-- Other than Missouri, every Cal opponent this season has been held to under 45 percent shooting from the floor. UC Santa Barbara finished shooting 40.4 percent.
"I thought Santa Barbara, I think they're good," Montgomery said. "They've got four senior starters and play people tough. We just jumped them early and really defended well.
"The thing that occurs is that against Missouri, Jorge fouled out early, Richard fouled out early and so there's two guys we didn't have tonight, so you worry about that, but I just thought that this is just evidence of what a team can do if they're all on the same page. Everybody is on the same page, they were very unselfish, they weren't trying to force anything, nobody was trying to be a hero. We passed the ball, our tempo was good, which allowed us to get good shots, and we didn't force very much. We played really good defense. They didn't get very much off the glass, and didn't get much off the break."
-- The effort would likely have pleased coaching great Pete Newell on the night named after the legendary Bears skipper, who guided Cal to the 1959 NCAA title.
One of Newell's players -- and a member of the Bears' 1957 College World Series title team -- Earl Robinson, received the Pete Newell Career Achievement Award, an honor presented annually to a Cal men's basketball alumnus who has distinguished himself in his career accomplishments.