Cal faces first real test against Wisconsin

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If Sunday’s game against Wisconsin occurred a little over a month ago, the Badgers would be the first -ranked opponents on the Cal men’s basketball team’s plate. And the Bears would be the underdogs in the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.

But predictions change. While Wisconsin fell from its No. 21 slot and skidded to a 4-3 record, Cal has remained perfect heading into its second road trip of the year.

For the Bears, Sunday’s 1 p.m. tilt will be the first real test of the season — on the road, no less.

But it won’t be an insurmountable hurdle.

Paced by Allen Crabbe’s average of 22 points per game — good for 12th in the country — the Bears are 6-0 for the first time since 2007. The team is also fresh off a sweep of the DirecTV Classic last weekend, in which Cal blew past Drake, Georgia Tech and Pacific.

But it was senior guard Justin Cobbs and not Crabbe who shone for Cal and posted 58 points across three games to become the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

“He has gotten better — there’s not a question about that,” said Montgomery following the title-clinching win over Pacific last Sunday. “He’s figuring out how to be effective.”

Together, Crabbe and Cobbs have formed a lethal backcourt duo this year.

The two starters also regularly become workhorses for a Cal squad that lacks a deep bench. With promising transfer Ricky Kreklow intermittently suffering injuries, the program only has two players — freshman guard Tyrone Wallace and senior forward Robert Thurman — who can come off the bench with little to no drop-off for the rest of the team.

“I think we’ve got talent,” Montgomery said. “It’s a matter of us taking advantage of our talent and guys being able to be as good as they’re capable of … How good we are remains to be seen.”

But extra minutes pay off in spades. Crabe and Cobbs are currently first and second in the Pac-12 in scoring, respectively, and are the only players in the conference who average at least 20 points.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s top scorer, Jared Berggren, can only muster 14.7 points per game. And while his team showed spark at the beginning of the season, decisive losses to No. 7 Florida and No. 11 Creighton have left the Badgers grasping for another shot at a ranking.

But the Badgers’ biggest asset could be Cal’s biggest threat. The Bears outrebound their opponents on the defensive end and favor speedy transitions for buckets. According to Montgomery, Cal is hard to guard as long as the opponents don’t bump or hold.

Meanwhile, the Badgers rely heavily on a slow, grind-it-out style of play that could leave the transition-happy Bears in a lurch.

Cal will also have an internal battle to overcome throughout Sunday’s matinee: forcing players to take the right shots at the right time.

The biggest culprit is Crabbe. He might top the scoring leaderboards, but he has nonetheless struggled with creating his own shot. Yet a change in his style could create a domino effect for the rest of the team.

“We’ve got to know how to get Allen Crabbe shots, that’s a team thing,” Montgomery said. “Turn that around, Allen knows he’s going to draw a lot of attention, so he’s going to be able to help get guys shots.”

Annie Gerlach covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]