It gets physical this time of year. Games take on added importance with tournament berths are on the line. They are slower and faster at the same time, every possession more important than the last. Nerves are frayed. Dams break.
Give Mike Montgomery credit for using exactly none of that as a defense for shoving of guard Allen Crabbe during a timeout early in the second half of the Golden Bears’ 76-68 victory over USC on Sunday night.
“To try to mitigate or find an excuse doesn’t work right now. I’ve been doing this for 31 years. I know better. It is totally out of character.” Montgomery said.
Crabbe had made defensive mistakes on the previous two possessions, Montgomery said, and the push was an attempt to “get him going,” saying Crabbe had a “woe-is-me” expression. Crabbe was restrained by teammates and left the court momentarily before igniting the team to a comeback victory with 23 points.
Montgomery, who initially made light of the incident in his post-game comments, has been reprimanded by Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour and the Pac-12, and he reached out to Crabbe’s family earlier this week. Crabbe’s father understood and bore no ill will, said Montgomery, who planned to address the issue at practice Tuesday.
“I think we’re fine with each other, and I think the team is fine with it, and that’s your primary concern,” Montgomery said. “I don’t think anybody feels threatened or anything, and we are in this together, and we have to continue to push forward.”
Cal had not won back-to-back games since beating Cal-Santa Barbara and Prairie View in mid-December before sweeping the Oregon schools three weeks ago. Now it cannot lose. The Bears are playing the best basketball in the league, having beaten No. 10 Oregon and No. 7 Arizona and sweeping the L.A. schools in the last three weeks.
The improvement of inside players Richard Solomon and David Kravish has made Cal more than just a two-trick pony behind Crabbe and guard Justin Cobbs, and true point guard Brandon Smith’s return also has helped Cal create some favorable matchups offensively. The Bears also has played more zone defense recently.
“They’ve gotten more used to each other and what each person can do,” Montgomery said. “We’ve continued to tweak things to try to take advantage of what we can do and not have them doing things they are not comfortable with.”
If the Crabbe incident does not have any carryover, the Bears could be headed for the NCAA tournament. After traveling to Oregon this weekend, they finish with home games against Utah, Colorado and Stanford.
It was a rough weekend at other stops, too.
— Oregon center Tony Woods appeared to line up Washington State forward Brock Motum before delivering a vicious elbow to Motum’s head midway through the first half Saturday in Pullman, as play proceeded the other way. Woods was given a flagrant foul and ejected, and after a review of the incident, the Pac-12 deemed no further sanctions necessary.
Oregon coach Dana Altman said he was disappointed in Woods for retaliating, although Washington State coach Ken Bone said his film study showed the two getting their arms tangled on a previous possession but nothing more serious.
“It wasn’t like an elbow to the head, that’s for sure,” Bone said.
— Arizona State center Jordan Bachynski and Colorado center Josh Scott got tangled up under the Arizona State basket early in the second half of the Sun Devils’ 63-62 overtime victory, and Scott hit his head on the court as both went to the floor. Scott did not return, and Colorado coach Tad Boyle opened his postgame press conference by saying, “Welcome to college football.”
Scott is day-to-day, Boyle said, as the Buffaloes prepare for Utah on Thursday.
“Still recovering from the body slam,” Boyle said.
Boyle reiterated Tuesday that Saturday’s game was the most physical game he had been involved in as a player or coach in his 25 years. He said he had a conversation with Pac-12 supervisor officials Ed Rush on Sunday in which they talked about a “lot of plays” in that game. Boyle called it a natural outgrowth of late-season play.
“You get into the dog days of late January and February, it gets harder to win,” he said. “Games get more physical. The Pac-12 is no different than any other league, although the parity in our league this year maybe intensities the feeling of every team feeling that they have a chance. There are a lot of teams fighting and scratching and clawing for positioning. Because of that, the physical nature of our game escalates, and it has to be administered.” TOURNAMENT WATCH
Several NCAA tournament simulations out this week have five Pac-12 teams making the 68-team NCAA tournament field. One has six, with both California and Arizona State joining the teams that have been solidly in the field for the last several weeks if not longer – Arizona, Oregon, Colorado and UCLA.
California and Arizona State were listed as last-line qualifiers in one projection, two of the teams that would compete in the play-in round in Dayton, Ohio, on March 19-20. Arizona State beat California two weeks ago and Colorado last Saturday. The ASU game was Cal’s lone loss of the past three weeks.
“It would be great to get six in, and I think it is a realistic number for us,” said UCLA coach Ben Howland, who credited commissioner Larry Scott for raising the league’s profile through the Pac-12 network and the relocation of the postseason tournament to Las Vegas.
GAME OF THE WEEK
California (16-9, 8-5) at Oregon (21-5, 10-3), Thursday. Cal started its big run the last time it played Oregon, holding the Ducks, ranked No. 10 at the time, scoreless for the final four minutes in a 58-54 victory. Oregon built an eight-point lead and seemed in control for the first 35 minutes, but something about this matchup brings out the best in the Bears, who have beaten Oregon 10 consecutive times and have not lost in Eugene since 2008.
Allen Crabbe scored 13 points in the first meeting, and the Bears held Oregon leader held E.J. Singler to seven. Oregon has played the last seven games without freshman point guard Carlos Artis (foot injury), and it is unclear if he will return this week. His perimeter shooting makes the Ducks a tougher cover.