For the first time in his Cal career, Allen Crabbe came off the bench.
When he finally stepped on the court, the star shooting guard was already warmed up and ready. Penalized for being late to the morning shoot-around, Crabbe lit up visiting Jackson State with a game-high 17 points, keying the Bears’ 73-46 victory at Haas Pavilion on Sunday afternoon.
The sophomore scored his first bucket over eight minutes after tipoff, cutting to the basket on a fast-break layup and converting a three-point play. The 10-7 lead was, at that point, the Bears’ largest of the game. The visiting Tigers didn’t fold just yet, as backup guard Christian Williams drained a tying 3-pointer 17 seconds later.
Without Crabbe, the heavily favored Cal squad (8-2) started a three-guard lineup of Jorge Gutierrez, Justin Cobbs and Brandon Smith. Against the small, quick Tigers (1-8) roster, the combination couldn’t quite penetrate the zone defense.
“Trying to squeeze it in, trying to do too much too fast … It’s a different pace against a zone,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery. “You have to wait to choose what you want.”
The flow began to change after Crabbe, the reigning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, entered the game. Back-to-back buckets by Bak Bak, a backup forward and fan favorite, gave the Bears a 14-10 lead.
Jackson State pulled within one on a 3-pointer by guard Jenirro Bush. The long basket was the Tigers’ fifth field goal on nine attempts in the game. They finished shooting 16-of-47.
The Bears rolled out a relentless 17-6 run over the next nine minutes. With 7:30 left in the half, backup Cal guard Emerson Murray bounced a 3-point attempt of the rim, only to see Crabbe soar up for a beautiful tip-in.
The Bears scored 14 of their 31 first-half points in the paint.
Jackson State opened the second half with a 9-5 run, but a 3-pointer and layup by Crabbe snuffed out the comeback. Montgomery had his team clicking for the rest of the game, exploiting transition opportunities against the overmatched Tigers; the Bears recorded 24 assists on 27 field goals.
Gutierrez flirted with a triple-double, dishing out a season-high 10 assists — one shy of his career high. The senior added seven points and seven rebounds.
Bak had his best day of the season with 10 points, perfect on four attempts from the field and two from the line.
“They didn’t look like they were going to guard me,” he said. “They were going to focus on the guards. I was like, ‘If no one’s going to guard me, I’m going to shoot it.’”
Richard Solomon filed in six points, four rebounds and a block — an energetic return from a two-game conduct suspension. Solomon and Crabbe, who are roommates, both overslept and were about 10 minutes late to the 8:30 a.m. shoot-around.
“Seems like Richard would have been there 15 minutes early,” Montgomery said. “Uncharacteristic of Allen.”
Added Crabbe: “It’s good to have Richard back as a teammate. We always talk about being a family.”