BERKELEY-Cal true freshman Allen Crabbe made only one shot on Saturday afternoon, and scored only three points. But boy, did he made them count.
With 2:57 left and the Bears tied 39-39 with Cal Poly, Jorge Gutierrez in-bounded the ball to Crabbe, who had time to shoot before being mobbed by the Mustangs' Shawn Lewis. Crabbe then kicked it out to fellow freshman Gary Franklin, playing the point for the first time in his collegiate career. Crabbe broke free and took the pass from Franklin, then dished it in to big man Markhuri Sanders-Frison down low. Sanders-Frison took one dribble, then another, looking to Crabbe the whole time.
Finally, Sanders-Frison found his 6-foot-6 teammate with a nifty bounce pass, and, Crabbe, wide-open, drained a three from the corner to put Cal up 42-39, securing the lead for good as the Bears pulled away to win 51-41.
"We've been working on that all week, the inside-out," Sanders-Frison said of the pivotal play. "We knew they were going to trap us. We watched tape and scouted them, and I knew they were coming, so I took one extra dribble so I could make sure that his feet were set. Then, I just gave him a nice, smooth bounce-pass and I knew it was going in and started running back right after he shot it."
Bears head coach Mike Montgomery expected the sharp-shooting Crabbe to be able to knock down that shot, even though he has had trouble with his stroke as of late.
"We thought that they would bring a guy down, and they didn't actually cover down as hard on Markhuri as we thought they might, so Markhuri ends up with 15 points in a 50-point game," Montgomery said. "The one inside-outside look that we got was what we expected to get, and we did run the guy to the corner treating it like a monster, so that we would have three passing lanes, and Allen, to his credit-who did not have a great game-jumped up and shot it in."
Crabbe went 1-for-4 from the floor in 27 minutes on Saturday afternoon.
"Ironically, Allen's been very good this week, shooting it well and getting good bounce out of his legs," Montgomery said. "But, we just looked sluggish and I think that, probably, this is not the kind of game you need coming out of finals. It's a slow pace type of affair, and we probably wanted someone who wanted to come out and score 120 points."
After a punishing first half consisting almost wholly of defense, Cal went into the locker room with a 19-12 lead.
"We knew it wasn't going to be a high-scoring game," Sanders-Frison smiled. "As long as we had the lead going into the half, we weren't mad at all. A lead is a lead. I wish we were up by 30, but hey."
Though the Mustangs shot a dismal 15.4% (4-of-26), the Bears didn't do much better, hitting 5-of-19 (26.3%) and falling victim to Cal Poly's glacial tempo.
"It felt slow, which is the way they wanted to play," Sanders-Frison said. "It looked like we were kind of out-of-sorts a little bit on certain plays. We played at their tempo, and that's the tempo they like to play, and they're a tough team to play against, because they force teams to play like that."
That slow-down strategy had worked well before for the Mustangs, who played both San Diego State and UCLA close in their previous two games.
"To their credit, that's what they do," Montgomery said. "They make it difficult to play against you, and I don't know what you can do differently, because they're going to play their game, regardless. Obviously, if you shoot the ball better or take advantage and make your free throws and so forth, it would make it more difficult for them to do that, but that's what they do. I can only offer up as evidence the fact that (San Diego State) had only 51 points and won by six. That's just what they do."
Sanders-Frison commented that the team was missing some easy shots and several inside-outs with good looks. They had to step things up.
"They were going to start falling sooner or later," Sanders-Frison said.
And in the second half, they did. Cal hit 12-of-25 after the break and 3-of-6 from beyond the three-point arc, in large part thanks to the distribution of Franklin, who took over at the point with just under nine minutes to go.
Franklin didn't figure to spend much time at the point guard position for the Bears when this season started, but after his performance during the second half, Cal's true freshman may just end up seeing plenty of minutes at the one.
"Today, I felt really good playing at the point," Franklin said. "I finally felt like I got the opportunity. I felt like the coaches were beginning to trust me more in practice, and now, in games. I'm feeling happy about that. This week, they made it a point to play me at the one a lot, especially since Jorge's been doing pretty well as far as scoring."
Franklin had his best shooting performance since Dec. 1 against UC Davis, going 3-of-6 from the floor, 1-of-2 from beyond the arc and 2-of-4 from the free throw line.
"It changes my whole mentality," Franklin said of playing the point. "In college, this is the first time I've ever been a volume shooter. Throughout my life, I've been a guy who takes less shots and scores more points. This gets me in the mindset to help my teammates be more aggressive, and then, once the defender that's guarding me forgets that I can shoot a little bit, or that I can score, that's when I take my shots."
Franklin found himself in a better rhythm with the ball in his hands, and ran the offense quite well taking over for starter Gutierrez, who was able to pour in 10 points playing off the ball.
"We're trying to get Gary going a little bit, and people that have had him coached him have felt that he needs to have the ball in his hands a little bit more," Montgomery said. "He's had a hard time getting in rhythm with just the catch-and-shoot deals, and we played him (at the point) some this week, and with Jorge, and I think Jorge liked that a little bit, just getting off the ball and we tried to mix it up. Gary did a pretty good job in practice of advancing the ball, moving the ball, and it got Jorge some opportunities as well. We're just trying to put people in the best position we can so that whether it's a rhythm deal, whether it's feel, I don't know, but we're going to have to continue to improve to play better."
Gutierrez-who always plays at a frenetic pace-was particularly hindered by Cal Poly's plodding tempo, shooting just 4-of-14 from the floor.
"Gary will give the ball up, and Jorge sometimes will hang on to the ball too long and try to create too much, and Gary will give it up early and let others have an opportunity," Montgomery said. "We're just trying to get Gary more in rhythm where he had the ball in his hands a little bit. It was fine. It was nothing that was revolutionary, certainly, but there were some good plays, both ways."
But, thanks to the post play of Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp, he didn't have to do much. Sanders-Frison-despite still being hobbled by a double-dose of plantar fasciitis-was good for a team-high 15 points and 10 boards for the second double-double of his career, both coming this season.
"We worked on establishing inside, because we felt that they would bring players down to double or really dig and we thought we could come inside-outside," Montgomery said. "Probably, given my emphasis this week, in terms of good shots, guys were gun-shy and afraid to shoot the ball, so as a result of that, we weren't very smooth. It's hard to get in rhythm. We made some, but we've just got to gain some confidence in ourselves in terms of what's a good shot, what's not, and that's going to be an ongoing process."
"Kuri's been the anchor of the team," Franklin said. "Tonight, he helped us regain our ability to push the lead in the second half, and night-in and night-out, Kuri's going to get rebounds. That's what he does."
With 5:25 left in the game, the Mustangs went on a 7-0 run to tie the game up and give the Bears a bit of a scare.
"The period where we weren't scoring a lot was because they slowed it down," Franklin said. "They played their tempo, and that made us less aggressive. Obviously, the clock's ticking, and it's either do or die, as far as winning. That puts pressure on us, and we became more aggressive as time went on."
Even with the score knotted at 39 with 3:38 to go, Franklin didn't feel any pressure.
"I'm very optimistic on and off the court, so any time we're down or even at a tie ballgame, I just feel like we're going to win," he said. "I'm a sore loser, so I never think about losing a game at all. Plus, I have confidence in our coach and our team, and that we can come together. Usually, defense wins games, and that's what's been helping us throughout this whole year."
Holding Cal Poly to just 12 points in the first half was a feat that the Bears have not accomplished in at least 15 years. Cal also won the rebounding battle on both ends, pulling down nine boards on offense to the Mustangs' six and 30 defensive rebounds to Cal Poly's 25. In the first half, the Bears out-rebounded the Mustangs 24-15.
Only one Cal Poly player scored in double-digits-Bishop O'Dowd grad Shawn Lewis, who scored 16 points on 4-of-11 shooting, hitting 2-of-5 from three-point range and 6-of-7 free throws. Junior forward David Hanson had just six points on the night on 3-of-16 shooting, far below his season average of 15.8 points.
"We had Hansen as being the key," Montgomery said. "What I told the team is that this is a team who knows who they are. They know who does what, and they don't stray from that very much. I thought Harper did a real good job on David Hanson. He was a guy who we felt was the key. We knew Lewis would shoot the ball probably as much, but he's not necessarily as productive, although here he is with post-ups, and that was on us, because he's left-handed and he's pretty quick going to his left and he got to his left. He got to his left hand around the basket. We didn't do a very good job of post defense on him. But, like I said, I think we did a pretty good job on Hanson, and that was critical, I thought, for us. We did do a pretty good job. We didn't give up a lot of second shots, we didn't give up much penetration, we didn't give up anything off the break."
Cal held guard Chris O'Brien-who came into the game averaging 6.1 ppg and shooting 50.3% from three-point land-to just four points and four boards on the afternoon and 0-for-4 from beyond the arc.
"I think we did solid," Sanders-Frison said. "I think we forced them to take a lot of bad shots and we contested a lot of shots and made things difficult. One thing we did struggle at was post defense. Myself, I couldn't move that well, and their guards, they're bigger guards, posting them up, it was a change for them."
Sanders-Frison benefitted from a week of light practice, and it showed. He moved a bit better on his hobbled feet, but did wince at times when he had to make a quick turn.
"The coaches and the training staff had a great game plan for me, as far as last week," he said. "I didn't really practice, got a lot of rest and I was still able to do cardio, so my feet felt a lot better. But, they're still real sore, so we're just taking it day-by-day."
Montgomery said that Sanders-Frison didn't practice for four days this week, only coming onto the court in-full on Friday.
"We would love to get him back where he's moving," Montgomery said. "He was our help guy. We took him off (Will) Donahue and told him he had to drop in soft on their cuts and he did a good job with that. He's still not moving well, in terms of blocked shots."
One shot-blocker who made his presence known in relatively few minutes was true freshman Richard Solomon, who pulled down seven boards in just 10 minutes of floor time, while adding four points.
"Richard did a good job, the time he went in there," Montgomery said. "He was active, and that's good to see. But, in terms of scoring, which is seemingly where we were having our difficulties, having Harper and Markhuri in there was, I thought, critical."
• Cal now leads the all-time series with Cal Poly, 2-1. The Mustangs won the last matchup in the 2003-04 season, 63-62.
• Cal has now won 42 of its last 46 nonconference home games.
• This was Mike Montgomery's 599th career win.