It was only two minutes and six seconds into the Cal men’s basketball team’s 2011-12 season, but one thing was already abundantly clear: Zone the Bears at your own risk.
Sophomore guard Allen Crabbe hit two opener 3-pointers in the opening minutes en route to a game-high 24 points, as Cal cruised to a 77-56 victory over UC Irvine on Friday night at Haas Pavilion.
The Bears (1-0) were 8-for-17 from 3-point range, including a deadeye 5-for-9 in the first half. Cal easily picked apart the Anteaters’ zone to open the game. Crabbe’s second three gave the Bears a 9-2 lead. Senior guard Jorge Gutierrez followed with a baseline jumper, then stole the ball and threw it long to Crabbe for the fastbreak layup to give the squad an 11-point cushion.
“I like how we came out aggressive,” said Crabbe, last year’s Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. “And we got into them on defense, and that let us feed off of that … That set the tempo for us.”
UCI’s Chris McNealy responded with a 3-pointer, but that 8-point margin was as close as the game would get. Just past the midway mark of the half, point guards Brandon Smith and Justin Cobbs ran a give-and-go that resulted in an opener jumper for Smith. The next possession, Smith found Gutierrez wide open in the corner for three, then Gutierrez found Cobbs for a three. The 8-0 spurt increased Cal’s lead to 19 in fewer than 80 seconds.
It wasn’t just 3-pointers, and it wasn’t just against the Anteaters’ zone defense. It didn’t matter what kind of defense UCI (0-1) played, the Bears’ guards would penetrate, the defense would collapse and someone would be open around the arc. Or Cal would throw it inside to a big man who, upon getting doubled teamed, would kick it out to a shooter for an easy jumper.
In the first 20 minutes, 13 of the Bears’ 16 field goals were off an assist. They shot 53.3 percent from the field and led by 25. Cal maintained the lead, even adding a couple of points to it, in the first four minutes of the second half; then the Anteaters came storming back.
“I wanted to play as many guys as I could,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “But we ran into a little bit of difficulty in second half with some guys not on the floor.
“We got to develop our depth.”
Although that outcome was never in jeopardy, the Bears were more lackadaisical on defense and simply colder from the field in the second half. Montgomery was able to empty his bench out in the first half, but his starters didn’t come out for good until a minute remained in the contest.
The starters, especially the triumvirate of Crabbe, Gutierrez and forward Harper Kamp, were their reliable selves. Gutierrez approached a triple-double with 11 points and a team-high nine rebounds and seven assists. Kamp had a modest 10 points and eight rebounds, but his performance caught the eye of his coach.
“He’s just good,” Montgomery said. “He reads stuff so well; (he’s) very unselfish. We knew that they would double the post … He did a good job getting us shots out of that.”
The Bears return to action on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Haas Pavilion. Montgomery was mum as to what he knew about the team’s next opponent, George Washington. “He was the first president, I think,” the coach joked.