Bears bounce back from blowout loss to beat Pioneers

Senior forward Harper Kamp logged 11 points and five rebounds in Cal's win over Denver on Saturday. The Mesa, Ariz., native also dished out five assists.
Gracie Malley/Staff
Senior forward Harper Kamp logged 11 points and five rebounds in Cal's win over Denver on Saturday. The Mesa, Ariz., native also dished out five assists.

He’s back.

It’s not like Allen Crabbe ever left, but the sophomore guard’s scoring had disappeared in the No. 20 Cal men’s basketball team’s last three games.

A fortuitous bounce off the backboard, a shooter’s roll around the rim — some hit nothing but net — but the important thing for Crabbe was that when he shot the ball on Saturday, it finally went in.

In the Bears’ 80-59 rout of Denver at Haas Pavilion, Crabbe rebounded from his recent weak showings to tally a double-double. He logged 15 points and 10 rebounds, including 12 and nine in an impressive first half.

“I was just trying to get into a rhythm,” Crabbe said. “I had been shooting the ball poorly.”

On the final play of the first half, his teammates were looking for him. He came off a screen but wasn’t open. Point guard Brandon Smith threw it down low to Harper Kamp, who founds Crabbe along the arc for a three at the buzzer to give Cal (5-1) a 16-point cushion.

He began the season on fire, lighting up the scoreboard for 24 and 21 points in Cal’s first two games. Against the Pioneers (4-1), he wasn’t perfect, shooting 6-for-9 from the field. But coming off three single-digit scoring efforts, including just six points in the Bears’ loss to Missouri last Tuesday, he needed to get back on track and did just that.

So did the team as a whole. Crabbe said the 39-point defeat at the hands of the No. 21 Tigers left a “bad taste” in their mouths. Justin Cobbs called the squad’s performance “embarrassing.”

“I think truthfully Missouri is better than we are,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “They kind of got into our heads, and we kind of allowed them to. And the next thing you know, it’s a runaway.”

So was Saturday’s matchup, particularly when Cobbs was in the game. The sophomore transfer put together a balanced and efficient performance offensively. Whether he was bullying his way to the basket for layups, drawing fouls or connecting from long range, Cobbs wasn’t missing all that often. He recorded a game-high 22 points and was a perfect 4-for-4 each from 3-point range and the free throw line.

“He shot the ball well, helped in a lot of different ways,” Montgomery said. “He’s a guy that can score the ball. If he can focus for 40 (minutes), he’s a good player.”

After making only two of their nine 3-pointers against the Tigers, the Bears shot 9-of-14 from downtown back at home. Denver, meanwhile, launched 25 threes, making just seven. It took the squad six whole minutes to score its first points. Cal’s defense was ready for the squad’s collection of backdoor screens and cuts, especially with Montgomery “scared” after watching the Pioneers upset Saint Mary’s on Wednesday.

Denver settled down offensively in the first half, finding space to hit quick jumpers and keep the score respectable. In the second half, though, the Bears consistently drew fouls and lived off the free throw line. Jorge Gutierrez made just one field goal but had 11 points — he was a perfect 8-for-8 from the charity stripe. The Bears shot 22 free throws in all, 16 in the first half.

Cal returns to action on Monday night, when the squad hosts McNeese State at 7:30 p.m.

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