Cal rebuffs Colorado in comeback victory

Bears hand Buffaloes first conference loss

Tony Zhou/Staff
Senior forward Harper Kamp led the Bears with 14 points, his highest scoring total since Nov. 21.

The clock read 35.3 when the handshakes started.

A little too early to be proper, but permissible given the ugly game Cal had fought through Thursday night. Hosting red-hot but unproven Colorado, the Bears earned a 57-50 win despite going scoreless for nearly six minutes and flirting with a season-low field goal percentage.

“You play that bad offensively and still win, you have got to feel lucky,” said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery.

So forgive Harper Kamp and Justin Cobbs for cracking wide smiles with only a four-point lead at Haas Pavilion. They were grinning with relief, slapping Allen Crabbe’s hands as he walked past the top of the key.

Crabbe had just corralled Cobbs’ missed free throw, jumping out of nowhere to secure the ball and would later sink two of his own at the line. The shooting guard had a horrid shooting night — finishing the game 2-of-9 for nine points after a scoreless first half — but came up with the crucial rebound along with a key steal six seconds earlier.

He wasn’t the only Bear who struggled. Slotted by Crabbe and Cobbs in the starting lineup, Jorge Gutierrez — a 50-percent shooter — sank only two of the 17 shots he heaved up. The guard trio combined for a putrid 7-of-35 shooting performance. They totaled only six points, eventually hitting a season-low 26.

It was Kamp’s play that helped save the Bears (14-4, 4-1 in the Pac-12). A smart defender, the senior forward has struggled offensively this season, seeing his average dip from 14.2 points per game to 8.8.

Against Colorado, he was the only Cal player who made more than one field goal in the first half, scoring seven points and grabbing five boards before halftime. His final 14 points was his highest tally since he scored 16 against Georgia on Nov. 21.

“Harper played well, thank goodness,” Montgomery said. “Somebody had to play. Somebody had to score the ball or we were going to be in deep trouble.”

Cobbs added: “Harper’s the man. He’s doing the little things that no one usually sees.”

Kamp’s efforts, along with stiff second-half defense by the entire team, ensured the the Bears remained undefeated at home. Entering the game, Cal had won by an average of 21.3 points at Haas Pavilion, and now their 12-0 start in Berkeley bests any mark since the 2002-2003 season.

The win also dampened what little hype surrounded the Buffaloes (11-5, 3-1), who traveled to the Bay Area as the only Pac-12 team still undefeated in conference play. Given that all three of its wins came at home, not many in the press bought in. Even Colorado head coach Tad Boyle tried to downplay the fiery start.

After Thursday, Colorado won’t be jumping atop any power rankings. Although the Buffs — powered by Austin Dufault’s 19 points and Andre Roberson’s 10th double-double of the season — proved themselves a solid squad, it’s Cal that kept its Pac-12 title hopes alive.

The Bears still have issues. Shooting 35 percent from the field won’t be good enough when March rolls around, or even on regular-season road trips.

CU played firm defense, but Cal still missed a number of decent looks in the first half. It recorded only nine assists against the Buffs, the team’s second single-digit showing of the season and worst since dishing out six in a 92-53 loss to Missouri.

“I think they got into our heads a little bit,” Montgomery said. “I think we allowed them to. Got frustrated and started shooting the ball a little early … Truth of the matter is, we didn’t screen anybody.”

He was encouraged by his defense, which — unlike previous outings — didn’t let a poor offensive effort trickle to the other end of the court. After allowing Colorado to shoot 41 percent in the first half, the Bears held the visitors to 26 percent after the break.

“That’s one of the reasons we came out with the win,” Kamp said.