Call it the summer of love/hate. California guard Allen Crabbe spent his summer break in the Bay Area, chiseling his body and working on his game. He told some he would rather have gone home to Los Angeles, although he later admitted to coach Mike Montgomery that putting in the work was the best thing he could have done.
On the first weekend of Pac-12 play, Crabbe’s improvement was evident. A perimeter jump shooter much of his first two seasons, Crabbe showed an ability to slash his way through traffic to get to the basket. He also finished many of those drives with his left hand, his off hand.
Cal’s go-to guy, Crabbe scored 48 points and was 19 of 33 from the floor with 10 rebounds and six assists in a split in his hometown of Los Angeles. The Bears lost to UCLA before recovering to beat USC.
Crabbe’s move to the next level was not lost on USC coach Kevin O’Neill.
“I think he’s a pro,” O’Neill said. “I think Allen Crabbe is as talented a guy as there is in this league. He’s not just a spot-up shooter any more, a pin-down player. He does it all. He has NBA two-guard size. He’s hard to check with a smaller guy or a bigger guy. To me, he is one of the toughest matchups in the whole league. We tried some different things, and none of them worked.”
It is not as if Crabbe, 6-foot-6, is a surprise. He was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2011 and a member of the all-conference team last season. But the additional weight and strength has made him a more multi-dimensional player. He got to the basket time and again against USC, scoring 19 points in the second half. He made all eight of his free throws and is shooting 87 percent from the foul line.
“Guys usually make a huge jump between freshman and sophomore years, but the jump this guy has made the past summer has been remarkable,” O’Neill said. “He’s bigger, he’s stronger. He’s faster. He scores more ways. He’s really become good at putting it down on the floor. He just is really, really a guy who plays with unbelievable force offensively. He forces you to foul him.”
Crabbe leads the Pac-12 in scoring at 21.4 points a game, the only player averaging more than 20, and made a strong first step in keeping player of the year award in Berkeley. Jorge Gutierrez won it last year.
“It’s the best shape that he’s been in, which is natural for a young kid who was skinny to start with,” Montgomery said. “But now he’s filled out. He’s much, much stronger. A lot of what he is getting he is being forced to get by people trying to pressure him and take things away. So he has gotten better at getting to the basket. It’s just hard work.” BRUINS REBOUND
UCLA enters its first Pac-12 road trip this weekend on a seven-game winning streak, with an offense that is purring behind freshmen Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams and senior transfer Larry Drew II.
The Bruins (12-3) are running more and making it hard on opponents to keep up. Six-foot-6 Muhammad is averaging 19.6 points a game, second to Crabbe, and leads the league in three-point shooting (48.6 percent). Drew does not score much, but that is not his job. He is averaging 8.5 assists a game and has a 5.6 ratio of assists to turnovers (2/1 is considered very, very good). No wonder UCLA is shooting 48 percent.
The Bruins have not lost in five weeks, since falling to San Diego State on Dec. 1, and among their conquests was then-No. 7 Missouri. They have not played a road game in four weeks, and the extra practice time at home has been a benefit to a young team growing into its system.
“They are clearly talented, and now they are gaining some confidence and getting a little more comfortable with roles and who does what,” California’s Montgomery said. “Obviously, Muhammad can score on anybody at any time. He is very difficult to stop. I think Kyle Anderson is a terrific player. They’re still not out of the woods. They are young, and they still have to go on the road. There might be a difference there, but they are awfully talented.”
UCLA will make its first visit to Utah and Colorado this weekend after missing both schools a year ago.
It makes little difference in the long run, of course, but the folly of the polls was on display again this week. After winning two games, one against Pac-12 contender Colorado, Arizona dropped a notch to No. 4 in the AP poll. Louisville, which won its only game last week against a weak Providence College team, moved to No. 3. Arizona (14-0) is one of four undefeated teams and has beaten Top 10 Florida. Louisville (13-1) lost to No. 1 Duke. The coaches’ poll kept the UA third and Louisville fourth.
The league is getting a tad more respect. UCLA, Oregon and Arizona State received votes in the most recent polls, and the Sagarin rankings list the Pac-12 as the fifth-strongest conference, behind the Big Ten, the Mountain West, the Big East and the Big 12.