With one minute remaining in the Cal men’s basketball team’s Saturday matinee against UCLA, coach Mike Montgomery called a timeout.
It wasn’t to draw up a game-winning play or set up the Bears’ defense.
It was to take out his starters, who were given a standing ovation by 9,750 fans at Haas Pavilion, as Cal crushed the Bruins, 85-69, to open Pac-12 play with a sweep of the Los Angeles schools.
A one-point margin at the half, the Bears (12-3, 2-0 in the Pac-12) broke open the game in the second half, beginning with a 10-0 run and saw their lead balloon to as many 24.
“I think as far as that second half, that might be the best half we’ve played,” said sophomore guard Justin Cobbs, who had 13 points, eight assists and only one turnover.
Cal scored 13 of the first 15 after the break. After a competitive first half, UCLA (7-7, 0-2) looked out of sorts, even turning the ball over on an over-and-back violation after coach Ben Howland called a timeout to quell the Bears’ early 5-0 streak.
Meanwhile, the Bears’ offense was running as smoothly as it’s been all season. The squad shot 65.4 percent from the field, a result of the players’ passing; 28 of their 34 baskets came off assists.
“My God,” Montgomery said of the assists. “We just were tuned in. Everybody was on the same stage. You don’t have that all the time, but it was fun to watch.”
Senior guard Jorge Gutierrez dished out eight assists to go along with 16 points, while teammate Allen Crabbe scored a team-high 20 points and pitched in six assists and five rebounds. Six Cal players, including all five starters, scored in double figures.
The Bears went on another scoring run at the 14-minute mark of the half. The Bruins turned the ball over twice in a row, and Cal made them pay with two baskets. After David Kravish blocked UCLA guard Jerime Anderson’s shot attempt, Crabbe made consecutive shots, first a 3-pointer and then a difficult bank in the lane. The 9-0 run stretched the Bears’ lead to 19.
Kravish said Montgomery told the team at halftime to keep fighting in the second half.
“I don’t know if he was ready for what we came out with,” Kravish said. “We got guys coming off the bench and everybody’s scoring. Everybody’s getting the opportunity, everybody’s creating for each other.”
On the defensive end, the Bears were able to take out the “head of the snake,” as Montgomery put it. Gutierrez shut down Lazeric Jones, UCLA’s leading scorer. He had just five points on 2-of-7 shooting as well as four turnovers.
Kravish was tasked with slowing down the Bruins’ gargantuan center Josh Smith, who is listed modestly at 305 pounds. Kravish weighs in at 210.
“At the beginning of the game, I almost apologized to Kravish for putting him on Smith,” Montgomery said. “But the kid is unfazed.”
Smith took just five shots and scored six points. He was double and triple-teamed when he got the ball, leading him to turn it over three times.
Concentrating on Jones and Smith opened a window of opportunity for Tyler Lamb. The sophomore guard had a career outing and helped keep the Bruins close in the first half. Lamb, who came in averaging 8.9 points per game, had 16 at the half en route to a 26-point performance. A 24.5 percent 3-point shooter on the season, he hit 5-of-7 from behind the arc.
But other than David Wear’s 17 points and seven rebounds, UCLA got very little production from the rest of its rotation.
“Coach was saying, contender or pretender, which one are you gonna be?” Kravish said.
The Bears answered that question pretty definitively on Saturday.