BERKELEY -- Following its second-worst first-half shooting performance of the young season, No. 24 California went into the locker room at halftime with a narrow two-point lead over visiting McNeese State. Head coach Mike Montgomery was notably less than pleased.
"We talked about respecting your opponent, respecting the game, and that there's really no excuse for that," Montgomery said. "I don't think they felt very good about it. We didn't get very good ball movement. Everyone was hanging on to the ball, kind of looking to see if they couldn't make the terminating pass, and the ball wasn't moving. We weren't getting the ball to people that need the ball, in spots that they need it."
As soon as the second stanza dawned, though, the Bears responded to their skipper's invective and shot 62.5 percent from the floor after the break, pulling away for a 73-57 win over the Cowboys (3-3).
Click Here to view this Link."I just didn't think we were prepared for the game," Montgomery said. "I just didn't think we were prepared. We didn't do much yesterday. We talked about, 'Don't take this as a reflection of the team that you're playing.' It's just that we'd played four games in eight nights, we felt like probably what we needed was get up and down, get a sweat and get away, but, mentally, I just don't think we were prepared to compete, and it showed.
Aside from senior guard Jorge Gutierrez, the Bears (6-1) had a dreadful first half shooting, sinking 12 of 30 shots against a McNeese State team that hit just 12 of 29.
"We were a little bit disorganized as far as running our fast break," Montgomery said. "We just got all kinds of problems. We didn't have very good spacing. We turned the ball over when we should have had buckets."
Gutierrez accounted for 12 points in the first half, and went wild in the second, shooting 6-for-7 from the floor to finish with a game-high 26 points on a night.
"He did a really good job," Montgomery said. "I didn't think he was as good defensively as he can be in the first half, but I thought that he, very subtly, kind of took over the game and if you look, statistically, five assists, seven boards, very good shooting percentage, does what Jorge does. You have to have somebody, and Jorge again was very quietly efficient. He just did his job. I think, probably, of anybody, he was the one guy that was more in a position where he did what he does, than several other of our guys, which weren't necessarily in positions to do what they do."
Sophomore wing Allen Crabbe ended the first half with a bang, hitting the first of his four three-pointers as the buzzer sounded to give Cal a 28-26 lead. Crabbe had missed his first two attempts from beyond the line, but once the buzzer sounded to start the second half, the 6-foot-6 guard from Los Angeles turned on the afterburners, hitting four of his next five from beyond the arc, finishing 8-of-15 from the floor for his third 20-point game of the season.
"If I'm not knocking down the shot, I've got to find other ways to get myself going," Crabbe said. "I did a couple cuts to the basket, got me going off the the fast break, easy stuff. I just feel that once I get into a rhythm, I get more comfortable. It's the little things that I have to do before some games."
Just over four minutes into the game, Gutierrez had five of the Bears' seven points, as Cal trailed by one after his lay-up at the 16:22 mark. For the next three minutes and 35 seconds, the teams combined to shoot 0-for-12, with the only point scored coming on a free throw by Richard Solomon.
Solomon continued to showcase a more hard-nosed attitude down low, pulling down a game-high five boards in the first half and finishing with a career-high-tying 10 rebounds on the night. Solomon had previously tallied 10 boards against Hartford and Mississippi last season.
"I'm just finally figuring out my role," Solomon said. "My role is to get rebounds and block shots, play defense. I'm just starting to settle into that."
The Bears had trouble finding open looks, but that was due as much to their own impatience as anything else, as Solomon attempted -- and missed -- his fifth three-pointer of the season and went 0-for-4 from the field and 0-for-2 from down low before the break.
"No. No. Has he made one yet? I don't think so," Montgomery said, when asked if the three is a shot they want Solomon to take. "We're trying to get the kids to play really high-percentage basketball. We were open in a lot of places. We've tried to dunk lay-ups where we've gone and we've not been able to get them down because we were neither far enough ahead or in a rhythm, so we've not gotten the two points we should have gotten there. I know kids like to dunk. I would like to dunk. But, you also have to look at the game and say, if you've got a 100-percenter, take the 100-percenter. Why turn it into a lower-percentage shot? That's' me, the way I think, and that's not the way that everybody thinks. But, that's how I think: take the 100-percent play. I thought in the second half, we did a much better job doing that."
The Cowboys' zone defense gave the Bears particular trouble early on, leading to six first-half turnovers and three blocks, including one on an attempted dunk by Justin Cobbs by Daniel Richard.
"I just feel like, in the first half, we weren't playing as hard," Crabbe said. "We weren't attacking as hard as we were in the second half, and once we started attacking more, things started to open up for us, so I think that's the only problem."
Neither team led by more than four for the remainder of the first half, with the Bears going on a 6-0 run to end the period thanks to back-to-back three-pointers from Gutierrez and Crabbe.
"I thought there were two things that were indicative of our aggressiveness in the first half. One: 2-for-8 from the foul line when we're a 77-percent shooting team. We were 2-for-8. That, and we had three fouls," Montgomery said. "You have three fouls, you're not … now, granted, their shots were mainly away from the basket, but I still felt like they were out-hustling us to loose balls and we were not very attentive to details."
The halftime speech, according to Solomon, was one of the more unpleasant tongue-lashings the team has had.
"Yeah, so far," said a sullen Solomon. "We've been starting off games better than this. We've just got to pick it up. We can't really take our opponent for granted. We've got to play like it's our last game, every game."
With 3:24 left in the half, the Cowboys led 22-18, with Cal shooting just 32 percent (8-for-25) from the floor and 0-for-4 from three-point range. After a media time-out, starting point guard Brandon Smith and senior Harper Kamp cornered junior guard Jeremie Mitchell on the right wing and forced a turnover by way of a Smith strip. Kamp recovered the errant ball and pushed it up to Crabbe on the break, feeding the 2010 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year who drove the lane and laid it in.
With 1:37 left, Jorge drove the lane on a pass from Crabbe and hit a lay-up to bring McNeese State back to within two. A Dontae Cannon jumper in the mid-post moments later put the Cowboys back up, but then it started raining threes.
"I guess it just gave us a little boost of energy," Crabbe said of his three at the buzzer. "It just got everybody pumped and everybody started coming out and just playing stronger in the second half."
The Bears shot 4-of-7 from beyond the arc in the second half, and on the heels of their six unanswered points at the end of the first half, went on a 12-4 run to go up 38-28 with 15:44 left.
"We talked about it in halftime, that we were coming out kind of sluggish, taking our opponent lightly," Crabbe said. "Coach told us to pick it up, so I guess we just came out more aggressive. We just found open lanes and got us to get the defense to collapse and kick it to open people."
Cal held the Cowboys without a field goal for 6:33, stretching from 1:54 left in the first half until the 15:41 mark of the second. During that 18-2 run, the only McNeese State points came on a pair of free throws.
McNeese State got back on the board with a lay-up by Patrick Richard and a jumper by Rudy Turner. Patrick was the biggest thorn in Cal's side on the night, shooting 7-of-16 from the floor and 3-of-8 from three for a team-high 18 points, while pulling down three boards and blocking three shots.
Crabbe missed his first three since the 5:59 mark in the first half after the jumper by Turner, but made up for it on the next possession. Crabbe in-bounded the ball to Cobbs, who fired a cross-court pass to Gutierrez on the left. Gutierrez found Cobbs back up top, who then went right to Crabbe for the trey.
A jumper by Desharick Guidry in the paint cut the lead to nine, but Cobbs then pushed the ball up quickly to Gutierrez, who found Kamp at the free-throw line for the drive and the lay-in.
Gutierrez and Crabbe then hit back-to-back threes to push the Cal advantage to 18 points with 10:47 remaining. McNeese State then went on a 12-2 run, broken only by a fortuitous media time out, which allowed the Bears to regroup.
Cal went on a 6-0 run after the breather, highlighted by heady play form Gutierrez. With just over seven minutes remaining, Gutierrez hit Cobbs with a long outlet pass on the left wing, allowing the sophomore guard to slow the game down a bit and let the offense set. Cobbs sent the ball around the horn to Kamp and Gutierrez, who found Solomon down low for the bucket and the foul with 6:58 left.
A turnover by the Cowboys' Daniel Richard once again gave the ball to Gutierrez, who curled right and hit an up-and-under shot on the right wing in traffic, with Richard hanging on his back.
Next, it was Turner's turn to cough up the ball, allowing the Bears once again to get good ball movement around the perimeter. Cobbs took the ball up top, saw nothing, curled and delivered a high pass to Kamp, who sank the wide-open jumper with 5:42 remaining giving Cal a 16-point lead.
Cal got its' lowest contribution of the season with just 10 points off the bench - seven points fewer than the Bears scored off the pine against UC Irvine in the season opener. 56 of Cal's points came from three players -- Kamp (10), Gutierrez (26) and Crabbe (20).
"We've got to get some more guys that can score the ball," Montgomery said. "Justin's been one of the guys. I think that Harper's got to get more consistent with where he gets the ball and what he can do inside and get to the line more. The bench thing's problematic, if only from the standpoint that if you're up 16 points or whatever and you make two or three substitutions, I can't afford to have swings. I can't, if I go in and play four or five or six minutes and gain two points or lose two points and we play pretty much even, I'm OK with that -- doing what they do. But, if we go in and every time we do that, we lose our momentum or lose and have an eight-point swing, that's not going to work. I can't just keep putting the guys back in and expect them to build it back up again. We'll continue to work at our depth."
-- Gutierrez's season-best 26 points were the most by a Cal player this season. His previous high was 15 against George Washington. Gutierrez's career-best effort came against UCLA last season, when he dropped 34 points on the Bruins on Feb. 20. The previous team-high this season was a 24-point performance from Crabbe against the Anteaters.
-- Gutierrez has now scored in double figures in all seven games this season. Dating back to last season, Gutierrez has a streak of nine double-digit games and 19 of 21 contests. He is the only Bear to reach double figures in each game this season.
-- Cal had two players score at least 20 points in the same game for the first time this year.
-- The Bears are now 25-3 in non-conference home games under Montgomery.
-- By out-rebounding the Cowboys 32-27, Cal continues a streak of seven straight games winning the battle of the boards.
-- The Bears tallied a season-high six blocks on Monday, led by three from Solomon.
"He's had some blocks and was better on the boards and we've just got to get him to finish up inside," Montgomery said. "He had some real good looks at it, and wasn't able to finish."