Gutierrez dishes out 10 assists in win

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BERKELEY -- Allen Crabbe and Richard Solomon had some technical difficulties with their alarm clocks Sunday morning, causing both to be about 10 minutes late to the morning shoot-around. The California basketball team, similarly, sleep-walked through much of the first half, leading by one point with just under 10 minutes to play before the break. But, when all was said and done, Crabbe, Solomon and the Bears finished strong, downing visiting Jackson State 73-46.
"I think [it's] a little bit to be expected. We were a little bit, we knew that they were going to come in with the potential for running throw-away motions, slow-downs, trying to shorten the game was there, and they did," said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery. "We'd seen them do that against Tulsa at home, and they just weren't interested in shooting early so, when you're not really at 100-percent mental capacity, necessarily, that's a hard thing to do, and they had some kids that can make plays, so the combination of things."
All but three of the 12 Bears who hit the floor scored at least one point in the afternoon affair at Haas Pavilion, including Solomon, who scored six points on 3-of-3 shooting with four rebounds and a block in his first action he was suspended following the game against McNeese State on Nov. 28.
"It was good to have Richard back as a teammate," Crabbe said. "We always talk about how we're a family, so just getting him back felt great, having him out there with us. He brings a lot of intensity on the defensive side for us, blocking shots and he gets a lot of rebounds for us. It was just good to have him back out there. We were in the lane good today, got him a couple dunks, so I feel that he played very well in his first game back."
The fact that Solomon missed the shoot-around before his first game back irked Montgomery.
"It seemed like Richard would have been there 15 minutes early," Montgomery said. "Uncharacterisitic of Allen, and he felt real bad, but we felt like, they're roommates, and I don't know why it has to come in groups of two. Why can't the other person get up and get going? Anyway, that's what happened."
Montgomery said that the tardiness would not affect how he used Solomon going forward.
"It's not a factor right now," Montgomery said of Solomon possibly returning to the starting lineup. "We're just trying to put together a basketball team, based on play."
After Crabbe's time out was over -- 6:03 into the first half -- he had to make up for lost time. Cal shot just 3-for-8 before Crabbe entered, with Jackson State out-rebounding the Bears 6-3.
"They played 1-1-3 zone, and I've played that before, and it can be pretty troubling if you don't understand it," Montgomery said. "We didn't spend a lot of time on it. We tried to explain the concepts, but we haven't seen a lot of zone, and they, actually, I thought, defensively, were pretty good in it. They were pretty long, they worked pretty hard, they know their coverages, and so it was different. It was a different look. I didn't think we were as patient as we needed to be, but that's part of the learning process."
When Crabbe entered, the two teams were tied at 7-7. With 5:31 left in the half, the Bears led 22-15, and Crabbe was well on his way to scoring a game-high 17 points in 27 minutes on the floor. Crabbe also chipped in five rebounds and three assists on the evening, as Cal (8-2) ran the lead out to as many as 14 points before going into the half leading 31-19 thanks to a 14-4 run.
"Coach said that he wasn't really satisfied with the way we executed offensively," Crabbe said. "They played that zone, and we haven't faced a lot of zone this year, so we had to go back to the drawing board and just get better at our zone attacks on offense and all that stuff. Their offense, they slow the game down a lot, so they kind of take us out of what we like to do."
After the Tigers (1-8) reeled the lead back to seven points with 17:09 left in the second half, Cal went on an 11-0 run, fueled by three straight buckets from Crabbe, and the route was on.
"I just feel we picked it up more in the second half," Crabbe said. "We got down on defense, started getting more aggressive, started figuring out their zone a little bit more, so we just started executing."
Crabbe and senior guard Jorge Gutierrez took over in the second stanza, with Crabbe starting the second period shooting 4-for-5 from the field and Gutierrez flirting with his first career triple-double, adding two points, six rebounds and eight assists in the second half to finish with seven points, seven boards and a career-high 10 assists.
Sophomore Justin Cobbs started his third straight game and displayed the same daring and toughness as he had in his previous two ventures, scoring five of his nine points from the free-throw line, taking a game-high six foul shots and chipping in six assists and two steals in 32 minutes.
Cobbs' most eye-popping play in the first half showed off the Minnesota transfer's positively Houdini-like ball handling, as he stripped Kelsey Howard at the top of his own key, ran the break and went up for a right-handed lay-in. A Jackson State defender went up with him and blocked that angle, so Cobbs switched the ball to his left hand in mid-air and nearly dropped it in, but instead drew the foul, and sank both free-throws with 5:30 left in the first half.
"We have pretty fast people, and we know with Justin pushing the ball and Brandon [Smith], they're pretty fast point guards to get out, so the wings just need to run the lanes and we get a lot of fast-break opportunities and we just execute them very well," Crabbe said.
The Bears got 16 points off the fast break and 16 off of turnovers, and in the second half, Cobbs turned in yet another head-turner. With just over four minutes remaining, Cobbs intercepted a pass on the right wing, ran the break on his own, ran into two defenders in the low post, switched hands behind his back and went for an up-and-under lay-in. Though the bucket didn't fall, he drew the foul and hit both foul shots to make it 68-41.
Cal got a rather unexpected contribution from junior big man Bak Bak. The 6-foot-9 forward shot 4-for-4 from the field and 2-for-2 from the free-throw line and his 10 points marked the highest output of his career. His previous career-best was a six-point performance against George Washington on Nov. 13.
"I was really feeling it," Bak said. "Besides, they didn't look like they were going to guard me. They were really focusing on the guards, so I was like, 'If nobody is going to guard me, I'll just shoot it.'"
With just over 10 minutes left in the game, Jeff Powers pushed the ball up against a full-court press, then sent the ball around the perimeter by way of Brandon Smith. Smith found Gutierrez on the left wing for three, but the ball kicked off the rim and back to Gutierrez. The senior guard then found a well-positioned Bak on the inside for the lay-in to put the Bears ahead 53-32 with 9:59 left.
Two minutes later, Bak hit a long two from the left side to make it 58-35, and was followed up by a thunderous dunk from Solomon 15 seconds later to finish off a 7-2 run. Bak was also very physical on the glass on a series several minutes later, winning out over 6-foot-9, 255-pound center Raymond Gregory for a board and then saving the ball from going out of bounds on a Smith miss.
"I kind of feel like it wasn't a really hard game to be in, because we didn't run too much because of the zone defense, it slowed down everything," Bak said. "It was a little frustrating."
With his performance on Sunday, Bak was hopeful that he'll see an increased role as the team moves toward conference play.
"Since last game, coach kind of looked at me and said, 'If you don't play well this game, your minutes are probably going to go down, because we need everyone on board,' so I'm pretty sure I might get a little bit of time again," Bak said.
Other than Bak, the Bears' other big men had a bit of trouble in the low post, with senior Harper Kamp scoring just six points in 29 minutes and pulling down three boards. Over the last four games, Kamp has scored 10, 7, 4 and now 6 points against McNeese State, San Diego State, San Jose State and now Jackson State, for an average of 6.75 per game, far below his season average of 8.9, and even further below his 14.2-point average last season.
"I think he's trying to rush it," Montgomery said. "He's so valuable in so many ways, but we need him to get consistent with what he does. We need to know where to get him the ball so he can make the plays that he can make. He ties everything defensively together for us, but it would really help if we could get a little more production from him."
Early in the second half, true freshman David Kravish made a leaping save to keep the ball in-bounds after a missed three from Crabbe. Cobbs reeled in the errant ball and got it to Gutierrez, who head-faked, drove the lane and dished to Kamp, who lost the handle, giving the Tigers the ball. That was one of several occurrences down low where the pass and the big man were not exactly in sync. Bak and Gutierrez were guilty of a missed connection, as well, lobbing a too-high pass inside which was picked off by Jackson State's leading scorer Jenirro Bush.
"Well, I wasn't really happy with our big guys catching the ball. I mean, I thought there was, I mean, Jorge probably should have had 15 assists. He really passed the ball, found the open guy," Montgomery said. "We had probably six or seven times where the post guys just didn't catch what should have been an assist and a finish, and that's something we've got to get better at, because we need the post guys engaged in finishing plays. Jorge was passing the ball well. I thought the one pass to Bak was pretty tough. That's not one he's probably going to catch, but two or three of the others should have been caught and finished. Trying to squeeze it in, trying to make too much too fast, it's a zone, we haven't seen a lot of zone, we haven't played against a lot of zone. It's a different pace against the zone. You've got to wait to get what you want, and then you can shoot some people out of a zone."
Cal moved to 7-0 at Haas Pavilion with the win in front of a crowd of 7,856.
This was the eighth time this season that the Bears have scored 70 points or more.
Cal finished the game shooting 27-of-51 (52.9 percent) from the field, improving the Bears season shooting percentage to 47.6 percent. Cal has shot at least 50 percent in four of its last five games.
With the win, the Bears improve to 2-0 all-time against the Tigers. The last win was a 117-74 affair at Haas Pavilion on Dec. 5, 2007.
Crabbe's 17 points mark the third game in a row where he's led Cal in scoring. He is now averaging 15.8 points per game and has surpassed 15 points in seven games this season.
Gutierrez's 10 assists set a new team high this season. The previous high was seven, dished out by Cobbs on Nov. 28 against McNeese State.
The Bears forced a season-high 16 turnovers, matching the 16 against Austin Peay on Nov. 15, thanks in large part to four steals, with two from Cobbs and one apiece from Bak and Gutierrez.
Cal has held opponents to under 50 points in back-to-back games for the first time since the 1984-85 season, when the Bears held Dartmouth, Seattle and Montana State to 44, 43 and 45 points, respectively, on Dec. 18, Dec. 21 and Dec. 22, 1984.