A lot can change in three possessions.
Midway through the second half of Saturday’s clash against No. 16 Creighton, the Cal men’s basketball was closing in. After a miserable first half, guard Allen Crabbe had scored two baskets, and the Bears had narrowed the score to 46-43.
Then came the onslaught. First, forward Doug McDermott hit a 3-pointer. Then guard Grant Gibbs knocked in a trey. Then fellow guard Jahenns Manigat too.
Talk about a triple threat.
Behind those three consecutive threes, the Bluejays built a 14-point lead, enough to withstand a late Cal rally. The Bears’ 74-64 loss at Haas Pavilion was the squad’s third straight, following defeats at Wisconsin and against No. 20 UNLV in the last two weeks.
“We’re not good enough yet,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery. “These are good teams. I want to know what it is I can do better to help them.”
McDermott, the Bluejays’ 6-foot-8 All-American forward, was practically unstoppable. The junior tallied 34 points on 10-of-17 shooting. No matter where he caught the ball or who was guarding him, the nation’s fourth-leading scorer found a way to put the ball in the basket.
He thrived in the post with his diverse array of moves. Pivot in, spin baseline, step back for a jumper — all options ended with points.
His father, Creighton coach Greg McDermott, considered it a special performance. Montgomery was equally complimentary.
“He’s pretty consistent,” Montgomery said. “He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He doesn’t miss a lot of shots. It was a hard matchup … he’s a really good player.”
While it only took McDermott 57 seconds to score his first basket, Crabbe needed 23 minutes and five seconds for his first field goal attempt to go in. The nation’s sixth-leading scorer entering Saturday’s contest, Crabbe missed all nine of his attempts in the first half and finished with 14 points on 6-of-26 shooting.
“I thought I was going to get into a rhythm at some point in the game, and I just didn’t,” Crabbe said. “I just missed shots. They’re some shots I usually make.
“I apologized to my team after the game.”
Greg McDermott said that his team’s goal was to hold Crabbe and point guard Justin Cobbs to under 50 percent shooting.
Cobbs led the Bears (6-3) with 18 points on 8-of-17 shooting to go along with seven assists in 38 minutes. But combined, he and Crabbe were not even close the 50 percent mark, shooting 33 percent from the field (14-for-43).
“We’ve got to get other people involved,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got to establish a low post game.”
The Bears were lucky to be down by just five at halftime. The Bluejays (10-1) scored the game’s first eight points, and Crabbe had just two points before the break. Cal did have eight offensive rebounds and just three turnovers in the half, maximizing its opportunities. Despite giving up 18 points to McDermott on 6-of-8 shooting, the other Bluejays combined to shoot just 6-for-23.
In the second half, Creighton’s role players eased the burden off McDermott. Gibbs, Manigat and center Gregory Echenique all scored in double figures.
But the Bears made it a game late. What they lacked in efficiency — 35 percent from the field, 3-of-17 from behind the arc — they made up for in hustle.
Cal outrebounded the Bluejays, 53-38, and pulled down 19 offensive rebounds to Creighton’s six. The Bears’ guards were especially active on the glass, as Crabbe, Cobbs and freshman Tyrone Wallace combined for 23 boards.
Down nine with four a half minutes left, Cal went on a 6-2 run to tightened the game to 67-62. Following a rare McDermott miss, the Bears had the ball with 1:14 remaining but could not convert despite four shot attempts. By the time Creighton finally came down with a defensive board, just 36 seconds remained.
“We didn’t shoot it very well,” Montgomery said. “You have to give Creighton credit for that, but I think then you have to look at yourself and ask how you’re going to get better shots and higher percentage shots.”
On a positive note for the Bears, swingman Ricky Kreklow made his first appearance since Nov. 16. Clearly rusty, he had four points and five fouls in 15 minutes.
He and the Bears will be back in action on Tuesday night at 8 p.m., when they host UC Santa Barbara.
Jonathan Kuperberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]