ANAHEIM, Calif. — The season is only two weeks old, but the Cal men’s basketball team has already won twice as many games as the football team did in all of 2012.
And by defeating three quality nonconference opponents to win the DirecTV Classic this weekend, Mike Montgomery’s club has made an early case for an NCAA Tournament bid.
After narrow wins Thursday and Friday, the Bears (6-0) blew Pacific out of the water, 78-58, on Sunday in the tournament finale at the Anaheim Convention Center.
“I’m very excited with group of guys we have,” said guard Allen Crabbe. “I feel like we can be something special … I feel like we can be a great team.”
Crabbe entered the Thanksgiving weekend tournament as the nation’s leading scorer, but the 6-foot-6 junior struggled in the first two games, tallying 28 points on 23 shots against constant double teams and defenders running him off the 3-point line.
“I told myself I needed to relax, I was rushing things,” Crabbe said. “I told myself to be patient. Fortunately I was able to knock down shots tonight.”
His Sunday night started with a three-point play, followed by a turnaround jumper. A few minutes later, he hit a left-handed floater. Then a baseline jumper off an out of bounds play. After seven minutes, Crabbe had 10 points. Pacific (3-3) had eight.
Crabbe finished with a game-high 24 points, including 14 in perhaps the squad’s best first half of the season, which ended with a 41-27 edge.
Shooting at a 56.5 percent clip in the period, the Bears were able to get easy baskets in transition, though set plays for open jumpers worked just as well. Meanwhile, the Cal’s man-to-man defense smothered the Tigers, who shot under 30 percent in the half.
“We’re hard to guard when we execute,” Montgomery said. “I think we’ve got talent. It’s a matter of us taking advantage of our talent and having guys be able to be as good as they’re capable of.”
The teams mostly traded baskets in the second half until Pacific scored three buckets in a row to narrowed the score to 59-54 with 6:42 left in the game. But the Bears went on a 19-4 run to end the game.
The streak started when Cal went down low to 6-foot-9 forward David Kravish, who made a three-point play on a baby hook. It ended emphatically with a fastbreak slam dunk by Crabbe.
Not surprisingly, Crabbe made the All-Tournament Team, though backcourt mate Justin Cobbs was named Most Outstanding Player. The junior, who tallied 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists on Sunday, totaled 58 points in the three games.
Montgomery joked that Cobbs’ tournament performance was “average.” Pacific coach Bob Thomason was simply envious of the 6-foot-3, 190-pound combo guard, who was 8-of-8 from the charity stripe and got there practically at will.
“He’s so strong,” Thomason said. “Personally, as a coach, I think he gets away with bumping people off … but he does it so cleverly, he gets away with it.”
Cal’s 6-0 record matches the squad’s best start in five seasons. Getting to 7-0 will be tough, as the Bears head to Madison to take on Wisconsin on Dec. 2.
“I think we have enough pieces,” Montgomery said. “If we do what we’re capable of on a consistent basis … We have a chance to be a decent team.”
Jonathan Kuperberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]