BERKELEY -- It would figure that the two easiest Cal basketball players to pick out of a lineup would wind up stealing the show for the Bears in their exhibition tune-up against UC San Diego.
Newcomers Justin Cobbs -- sporting newly-bleached yellow hair -- and 6-foot-9, 210-pound true freshman David Kravish provided the highlights on the offensive and defensive ends of the court, respectively, in Cal's 88-53 win.
Cobbs scored a game-high 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting, going 6-for-8 from the free-throw line and 1-for-1 from beyond the arc while playing both the one and the two, dishing out four assists and pulling down two boards. It was Cobbs' first action against another college team since March 19, 2010.
"It was exciting. I was a little anxious at first," Cobbs said. "Coming off the bench, I was anxious, just waiting to get out there with my team, and just make sure that the main thing was that I go hard and help my team and just make sure I put out the effort and everything else will come on itself. I just made sure I was out there, hustling and doing the little things."
As for the hair color? Both Cobbs and sophomore Richard Solomon -- who finished with eight points, three steals, three boards, one block and one assist in 15 minutes -- went toe-headed for the contest.
"It was my idea," Cobbs smiled, "but Richard just did it first."
Kravish -- who has added about 15 pounds of muscle onto his long, gangly frame since coming west from Lee's Summit, Mo., and wants to get up to 235 within the next two years -- played just 16 minutes, but in those 16 minutes, he pulled down a game-high eight rebounds, scored four points on 2-of-2 shooting and blocked five Tritons shots, while showing no hesitation banging down low.
"I thought I played pretty well on defense and rebounding," Kravish said. "I put a lot of effort into that, and those are the two things that I can control -- my attitude and effort. On offense, I need to slow down a little in the post, but I thought I played pretty well.
Cobbs was just about the only Cal shooter to actually have any kind of stroke in the first half going 5-for-9 for 16 of his 17 points, as the Bears shot a dismal 39.5 percent from the field and 1-for-7 from three-point land.
"We had a scrimmage the other day, maybe it was the first scrimmage we had where I kind of took seven of the better players and put them on one team and played against the other group of guys, and I had three different groups," said head coach Mike Montgomery. "We had three different scrimmages, and each time, the group of guys that were not supposed to be your better players, won. It was basically the same reason that you saw in the first 12 minutes tonight, is that we settled for the first shot off the first pass, we had nobody in the paint to offensive rebound and we didn't get in any kind of rhythm."
Sophomore wing Allen Crabbe struggling mightily against himself to dial in his three-point shot -- shooting 0-for-2 from beyond the arc and 1-for-4 from the field before the break.
"Obviously, Justin did a nice job. Jorge was unselfish. It really helps when you have a guy make an extra pass, or give up what might have been a shot for him to get somebody else a shot, and it's one of the things we're going to have to do for Allen Crabbe. We've got to get Allen Crabbe shots," Montgomery said. "We've got to work to get him shots, because once he gets going, he's really good. But, if we just forget about him, then we're not going to be as good. We've got to do a better job. That doesn't mean we pass up things. It means that we do a good job of finding people at where their strengths are."
Crabbe finally got going in the second half, scoring 12 of his 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
"We missed the shot and we were 3-for-15 from outside eight feet, so, as a result of that, we didn't get any continuity," Montgomery said of the first half. "We didn't get any kind of rhythm. That's one of the things that we have to figure out, is how to get each other good shots and not settle for the first shot, just because it's open. We've got to get on a rhythm, and you know, we were 7-for-23 from the floor at one point, and [UC San Diego] shoots the ball pretty well, so we ended up getting ourselves in a hole. We've got to figure that out, and now, maybe that group's not the best group. Maybe we've got to find other people that can do that. I thought Justin went in and did a real good job, and got us going a little bit. We also got Jorge and Crabbe with two fouls in the first half."
The Bears trailed for much of the first half, trailing UC San Diego by as many as seven points with 9:02 left before the break.
"We'd throw it to the post, and he would just, boom, without really even getting settled, he would shoot it and miss it and then, boom, we go back on defense," Montgomery said. "That's something that's not atypical of us yet. We've got to get through that and figure out what it is we do best. The good side is, once we kind of got settled a little bit, we got in a little rhythm and we were pretty good. We got good contribution off the bench. Robert Thurman did a nice job."
While Thurman didn't record any steals, he deflected two passes down low in the first half, and clogged the lane well during his 10 minutes on the floor, recording three boards and eight points on 3-of-4 shooting.
Down by three with just under five minutes left before the half, sophomore Emerson Murray found Cobbs on the right wing, and the sophomore transfer drove the lane for a nifty lay-up to bring Cal within one with 4:28 left. Cal then proceeded to go on a 14-4 run before heading into the locker room. When they came out, the Bears went on a 22-4 run, including a four-point, four-board contribution from Bak Bak, who finished with six points.
"We weren't playing as hard as we play," Gutierrez said of the first half. "We talked about it and we came out in the second half, ready to play. It was just getting the nerves out of the system in the first half, and we came out in the second half and played harder."
Kravish entered the game at with just under 10 minutes left in the first half, and less than 30 seconds later, recorded his first offensive rebound, out-running 6-foot-4 junior Ryan Peters to corral the ball out beyond the three-point arc.
One minute later, Kravish stayed strong inside on a missed Cobbs lay-up and tipped the ball in for his first points.
"That's kind of what David does," Montgomery said. "The one thing that's really impressed us is that he's a guy that gets his hands on a lot of balls, and he just has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He is a little bit hesitant to pass it before he figures out where he is, if he has something. He's got to slow down a little bit and figure out what's a good move for him. He actually ended up getting the left-hand jump hook twice, which is probably - it's something he's working on -- but it's not probably the best thing for him. What we have to do with our post guys is, if you get to your best move, take it. If you don't, don't feel like you have to shoot it. Come out, let's re-establish and get another shot."
In his first three minutes on the floor, Kravish pulled down two boards and scored two points. After his first 10 minutes of action, he had four boards and two blocks, the first coming on a layup by Dylan Bohanan with 2:52 left and the second coming 40 seconds later as Bohanon drove the lane on the left side.
"Ever since high school, I've just been able to, I don't know, just spin around the ball to get a block. That's just how it is.
"However I'm needed, if I'm needed in practice to play the other post that we're going up against, I'm going give my 100-percent effort to make the other guys better. Wherever I'm needed, I'm going to give 100 percent to contribute to the team."
Kravish did have some shaky moments on defense, though, at times butting in on other players' defensive assignments.
"I don't think there's any question," said Montgomery, in response to whether Kravish will be a contributor this season. "He's long, he has a pretty good knack for blocking shots and that was one of the things that we first saw when we saw him, is he can block shots. He's good, one man removed, particularly, but of course that's going to get him in trouble, some, if he leaves his man to go block a shot. Someone's going to have to go pick him up on the glass. He'll get better and better. He's a smart player, and he moves around and maybe the shot doesn't look like a million bucks, but it tends to always go in, so you can't fault that."
"Defensively, we were better in the second half," Montgomery said. "I thought we let their low post catch the ball where he wanted to and made some mistakes there, but you're talking about Kravis, Bak, Robert, guys that really haven't played very much, so it was probably pretty good for them."
Kravish did, however, record four boards on the defensive end -- tied for the team-high with Jorge Gutierrez -- and, along with Thurman, helped to clean up some garbage underneath.
"We were having some trouble early with defensive rebounds, and he helped us a lot," Gutierrez said. "[Cobbs and Kravish] are a huge help, coming off the bench."
Gutierrez's trademark scrappy play was in midseason form from the get-go, getting a pass on the baseline from Solomon to slash inside for a bucket on Cal's second possession for the first points of the game. He wrestled for balls under the net and forced the Tritons into bad shots and mixed it up down low, hitting 3-of-4 foul shots and finishing with four boards, four assists and a steal while playing off-guard.
To start the second half, Gutierrez backed up Tyler McGrath in the paint, sending the 6-foot-3 junior hard into the floor and spinning around to put in the easy bucket. Moments later, McGrath hacked Gutierrez driving the post, but the senior guard out of Chihuahua, Mex., sunk both free throws.
"It's just a part of the game," Gutierrez smiled. "It's going to happen. Just got to be smarter."
With Gutierrez manning the two for most of his time on the floor, Cobbs split time at the point with junior Brandon Smith, while also seeing time at the two.
"I think either spot, when Allen's getting it going or Jorge's getting it going, I might have to play the one, or sometimes Brandon might be playing well and I might have to move to the two," Cobbs said. "Either or, I'm just out there, trying to contribute in any way possible. I feel like I'm more comfortable at the one, but any way possible."
When Cobbs came in to relieve Smith 4:12 into the contest, he brought a physicality and a sense of calm to the game, along with some tenacious, pesky defense.
"I feel like he's a pretty good point guard," Gutierrez said. "he knows how to run the team. He knows us. That's what a point guard does. He runs the team. He did a pretty good job of that."
Cobbs -- sitting next to Gutierrez at the post-game interview table -- smiled and turned to the senior leader.
"Thanks, Jorge," he laughed.
Cobbs played low with good knee bend, and within moments of entering, took the ball up top and dished to Gutierrez on the right for a finger-roll. The shot did not fall, but 'Big Rob' Thurman was there to clean it up.
"Rob's big, he's big and he's physical," Montgomery said. "He's 265, 260. Rob made some nice moves early. When we put Rob in, Richard got three or four shots early, didn't make anything and well, do we keep getting him shots if he keeps missing? That's not helping us. Rob went in and made his first two shots, so all of the sudden, you say, 'Well, OK, there's a guy that's giving you something and you've got to go with that."
Thurman scored eight points on 3-of-5 shooting with three boards and an assist, and figures to help establish the kind of depth Montgomery didn't have last season, which will play a big role given the sometimes-fickle knee of senior Harper Kamp, who played 20 minutes and scored 10 points with five boards, two assists and a steal.
"It seems to me that the guys that are contributing and doing a good job on a given night need to play more minutes," Montgomery said. "If there's inconsistency, I pretty much feel like I know what I'm going to get from Harper and Jorge at any given time, maybe throw Crabbe in that mix. Brandon's solid, but after that, obviously Justin had a really good game. He deserved to be on the floor. It's just a matter of finding people that are producing. I can't play people that can't defend. If you go in and you give up eight points because you can't defend a guy, it's really unlikely -- for some of these guys -- to be able to get eight points back themselves. They're not going to give up eight and make 20. That makes them a negative. We can't have that. We just can't have that, and guys are going to have to figure that out. They're in charge of their own destiny, really.
"I was glad to be able to play 14 players, but that's obviously not going to happen as time goes on. I think I can get to 10 or 11, depending on how, and what the circumstances are. But, that's not going to be the game plan. The game plan's going to be, have the best people on the floor to win games."
Cobbs missed his first three shots, but ran the offense well and got the Bears into a rhythm. With 12:32 left in the first half, Kamp and Crabbe provided good presence on the offensive boards to recover the ball and draw the foul. After some back-and-forth between Cobbs and Smith got UC San Diego out of sorts on defense, Smith found Crabbe up top. Last year's conference Freshman of the Year went up for a shot, and at the peak of his leap, found a slashing Kamp underneath for a big dunk.
Kamp later cleaned up a long fall-away two from Cobbs, who also showed off a superior vertical leap.
Cobbs finally found the bottom of the bucket himself with 7:31 left in the first half while drawing the foul. He hit the free throw, then tallied an assist on a Kamp score and hit a three with 6:29 left. Cobbs missed just one more shot from that point on.
"Justin's good," Montgomery said. "When he focuses and concentrates, he's a good player. But, right now, Justin, Brandon, Jorge are my three guys for two spots, so there's plenty of time there. I'm not too concerned about who starts. Brandon's been pretty steady, Jorge's Jorge. If Justin can give us that, there's a lot of minutes for him. I can even move Jorge over to the three, if I need to do that, but Jeff [Powers] shot the ball pretty well, too."
As the second half dawned, Solomon pulled off a nifty spin move to sink a shot from the mid-post.
Several possessions later, the Tritons got the ball to MacKenzi McCullough on the right wing. Crabbe -- playing lock-down defense -- swiped the ball, pushed it up to Smith, who got the ball to Kamp on the break. Kamp lobbed the ball up to Solomon for the easy jam, capping a run, which saw the Bears up their shooting percentage from 39.5 to 49.3.
One minute later, Smith came up with one of his three steals, feeding the ball to Gutierrez on the break, who found Crabbe for the lay-in. Crabbe would later hammer home a dunk of his own to match his classmate Solomon. Crabbe poked the ball free from McCullough up top, pushed it up court to Gutierrez, who fed the ball back to Crabbe down low for the two-handed jam.
After sinking his first trey of the night on a pass from Cobbs, Crabbe swiped yet another steal, only to see the ball nearly knocked loose by Colin Porter at mid-court. Crabbe spun around, caught the ball in mid-air and re-directed it to Kamp in the lane for a dunk and the foul.
When asked about how Montgomery's health affected the team, Gutierrez shied away from making a big deal of his head coach's bout with bladder cancer.
"I prefer not to talk about it," he said. "I think that's a pretty personal situation for him, and for the team, we try to keep it with the team."
Montgomery was a bit more expansive in speaking about his first game back on the bench.
"Well, I was at practice full-time [Monday], which I told the team I was going to do, but I've got to be careful," he said. "I've got a little warning I think, in LA, that you can't do too much, too fast. You've got to be careful with the thing. Somebody threw a ball yesterday, and I kind of just naturally reached down and said, 'Ooh, that wasn't so smart.' I don't know how many stitches there are in there -- there are a bunch -- but there's a lot of healing going on in there. Energy is an issue. I've just got to make sure I have the energy, get enough rest, have enough energy to do what I need to do, and then just give it time to heal. I won't be taking any charges in charge drills, or anything like that, unless I'm really stupid, which, certainly could be argued."
Redshirt freshman Alex Rossi hoisted up a few shots in the pre-game shoot-around, but did not dress, and is not close to returning from an abdominal surgery that sidelined him all of last season.
"Alex has been having a tough time," Montgomery said. "He's just not been able to get physically to where he can play and practice every day to get into any kind of a rhythm. His number one goal is to get healthy. That's all we're really concerned about, is to try to find a way to get him healthy."
True freshman Christian Behrens saw action, playing five late minutes and registering a rebound and an assist, but left in the final minute of the game after landing awkwardly after going up for a rebound. He tried to re-enter, but was quickly subbed out for Kravish with 17 seconds left.
"He had a torn ACL in high school, and I don't think it's that, or anything related to that, but it scared him for sure, because it was the same knee, and so when he felt pain in there, he thought, 'Oh, man,' because that's a tough recovery," Montgomery said.
Cal will take 10 days off before facing off against UC Irvine in the season-opener at Haas Pavilion on Nov. 11.
"I think we have a scrimmage on the fifth," Gutierrez said. "That's going to help a lot to get ready for that game [against Irvine]."
"We've got a scrimmage against St. Mary's on Saturday," Montgomery said. "That'll be a good test for us, and it's closed, but, then we've got Irvine coming in. We'll see. We should make some progress by then."
Read some notes from the exhibition on the Bear Blog.