Two days after the Cal men’s basketball team’s road upset of No. 7 Arizona on Sunday, Allen Crabbe said that the Bears may win the conference if they play every game the way they did in their game against the Wildcats.
Crabbe’s remark might have seemed silly then. Not anymore.
In front of a nationally televised audience and nearly 10,000 fans at Haas Pavilion, Cal throttled UCLA, 76-63, on Thursday night.
Mike Montgomery’s club, which has now beaten the Pac-12’s top three teams in the past three weeks, kicked the Bruins out of first place and put the rest of the conference on notice: Beware the Bears.
“This is the team we should have been all season,” said forward David Kravish. “This is the team we should be.”
After a string of close games, Cal (15-9, 7-5 in the Pac-12), blew the game wide open in the first half, using runs of 15-0 and 10-2 to build a lead as large as 28.
Crabbe, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week and the league’s scoring leader, scored 15 of his 16 points in the first half. The junior guard was one of four Cal players to reach double figures in that 47-22 opening period.
“It was just fun when you’re beating a team like that,” Crabbe said. “Everybody is happy, everybody is on same page. You just want to play harder.”
Even with nine missed 3-pointers, the Bears shot an even 50 percent from the field. Justin Cobbs was an efficient floor general, knowing when to pass (nine assists) versus pull up for a jumper (12 points). Kravish was at the rim, cleaning up missed shots — there were a few — to a tune of 13 rebounds and a career-high 18 points. He and fellow forward Richard Solomon combined to shoot 16-for-21 from the field on the night.
“You can’t ask for a better night from both of them,” Crabbe said.
It was not as if the Bears won in a shootout. Cal dominated UCLA (18-7, 8-4) in nearly every statistic and facet of the game. The Bears’ 46-20 edge in points in the paint was particularly egregiously bad.
The Bruins simply could not score in the first half, when they shot just 30 percent. They missed point-blank shots throughout the game and had seven others blocked against the Bears’ man-to-man defense.
“By and large, we didn’t really make very many mistakes,” Montgomery said. “They were jacked. Guys were making shots, (they) really were defending.”
UCLA’s star freshman Shabazz Muhammad, the conference’s second-leading scorer, did not get going until after the game had been decided. Saddled with foul trouble and post double teams, Muhammad totaled 13 points on 13 shots.
No doubt embarrassed by their play in the first half, the Bruins opened the second half on a 14-4 run to cut the deficit to 15. Immediately, the Bears scored nine unanswered to go up, 60-36.
UCLA did not quit. Jordan Adams hit a trio of threes to keep the score reasonable, but the lead never dipped below 12 as Cal milked the clock for its fourth win in the past five games.
Jonathan Kuperberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at jkup[email protected]