Winter sports recap

Michael Tao/File

Michael Tao/File

Tony Zhou/File

Tony Zhou/File

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Men’s Basketball

Eleven seconds away from beating the No. 21 team in the country on Dec. 9, the Cal men’s basketball team appeared poised to crack the top 25 and stake its claim as an early contender for the Pac-12 championship crown.

But Quintrell Thomas grabbed an offensive rebound and scored with one second remaining to give UNLV the stunning 76-75 victory, pushing the Bears deep into a funk from which they have yet to escape.
The loss was the second of three in a row following a 6-0 start to the season.

After beating up on UCSB and Prairie View A&M, Cal (11-7, 3-3 in the Pac-12) lost four of six before beating Utah Thursday night.

Defeats at the hands of Creighton and UCLA are understandable. Even the loss to Washington — though certainly not the means by which Cal lost— is excusable to some degree. But falling to Harvard at home on Dec. 29? That is unacceptable.

So what has gone wrong for the Bears?

Allen Crabbe, who led the country in scoring early in the season, has seen his shot attempts decrease against Pac-12 defenses focused on shutting him down. And even when he is open, the junior is often hesitant to shoot.

“He passes on shots that we think he should take,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery on Tuesday. “We’ve stressed trying to get others involved … I’d rather him take more good shots than people who are not going to make shots take shots.”

As Crabbe’s scoring has gone down, no other player has stepped up consistently on the offensive end.

Starting big men David Kravish and Richard Solomon have strung together solid stretches but have yet to put it all together for a full 40 minutes. Tyrone Wallace has been a pleasant surprise, but the freshman is shooting 34 percent from the field. Justin Cobbs, who began the season nearly matching Crabbe in the scoring column, is in the midst of a five-game shooting slump.

And that’s about it. Cal’s bench scoring is almost nonexistent, and Crabbe and Cobbs are counted on to play nearly the entire game — every game.

“I feel like everybody’s been contributing all we can,” Kravish said, “just making some mental mistakes. Once we get past those or eliminate those, you’ll see us start putting it together.”

The Utah win could be a fresh start for Montgomery’s club, but the victory could also be short-lived — the Bears play Colorado next, a team that beat them two out of three times last season.

—Jonathan Kuperberg

Women’s Basketball

For the past two decades, all Pac-12 teams dreaming of the conference title traveled to Maples Pavilion to slay perennial goliath, Stanford. Very few came out with a victory.

The Cal women’s basketball team lost to the Cardinal at Haas Pavilion, 62-53, on Jan. 8, after letting the halftime lead slip away in the first bout. Five days later, the Bears (15-2, 5-1 in the Pac-12) traveled to Maples for redemption.

Unlike the Jan. 8 tilt that was marred by the Bears’ ice-cold perimeter shooting, Cal shot lights out at Maples. Led by backup guard Mikayla Lyles’ four 3-pointers, the Bears rallied to a 67-55 win, snapping the Cardinal’s 81-game winning streak at Maples against Pac-12 teams.

The upset sparked an arms race for the top of the Pac-12 between No. 6 Stanford (16-2, 5-1) and No. 7 Cal. With a nearly identical record, the Bay Area rivals have been neck-and-neck in the chase so far.

The weekend right after the win over the Cardinal, the Bears won two close games against USC and then-No. 14 UCLA at Berkeley. While the 70-65 victory over the Bruins had a larger significance in the Pac-12 race, the overtime victory against the Trojans was arguably the most exciting game of the season.

For the majority of the game, Cal trailed behind the recently surging USC squad, who was 4-1 in conference play. Down by five with three minutes left, it took a historical performance from forward Gennifer Brandon, who tallied 23 points and 26 rebounds, to will the Bears into overtime and, eventually, pull out the win.

The Jan. 17 match against the Trojans wasn’t the only nail-biting contest of the winter break. On Jan. 6 at Boulder, Colo., the Bears had to rely on their stingy defense and rebounding advantage to squeeze out a 53-49 victory against No. 20 Colorado.

Like the USC game and the first Stanford game, Cal had trouble creating points against the Buffaloes. However, despite a fickle shooting touch, the Bears tallied a 8-1 record over winter break.
It was the result of a hard-nosed defense, gritty determination and a sprinkle of winter magic.

—Seung Y. Lee

Football

Let’s be honest — you haven’t thought about Cal football in months.

Following the 3-9 debacle that was the 2012 season, it’s hard to blame anyone for tuning out the Bears’ offseason happenings. After all, the college football offseason generally just produces a bunch of recruiting news and staff turnover.

With the Sonny Dykes regime installing its basic foundations, however, the happenings have been a bit more frequent.

The biggest news of the past month was cornerback Steve Williams’ departure to the NFL. Williams, an undersized defensive back who has displayed talent in both coverage and open-field tackling, led Cal with three interceptions and 10 pass breakups.

If Stefan McClure returns in 2013 fully recovered from his knee injury, the Bears shouldn’t see too much of a dropoff in talent.

Williams will likely either be a late-round pick or undrafted come April.

Williams’ departure was an unexpected and disappointing surprise.

Dykes is likely hoping his hire of relatively unknown Zach Yenser as the offensive line coach won’t produce similar sentiment.

Yenser is so anonymous that a resume can’t even be found on Google. Yenser graduated from Troy in 2007 and since then has worked under new Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin at both Troy and Louisiana Tech.

He also played under Franklin during his playing days at Troy. Some have remarked that Franklin’s blocking schemes would be difficult for someone without familiarity of the schemes to understand and implement; hiring someone who has both executed the plans on the field and on the sideline ameliorates that issue.

On the defensive side of the ball, Andy Buh was hired out of Wisconsin as the defensive coordinator. Buh and newly named defensive line coach Barry Sacks previously worked together at Nevada.

—Michael Rosen

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