Late in the second half of the Cal men’s basketball game against Denver on Tuesday, Justin Cobbs left the ground as he attempted a block near the basket. As he landed, Denver’s Cam Griffin fell backward into Cobbs’ left knee, bending it backward unnaturally. The crowd at Haas Pavilion fell silent as the senior point guard fell to the floor, clutching his leg. After a couple of long minutes, Cobbs was helped off the court and into the locker room by the strength and conditioning staff, limping heavily.
It was a scary moment for Cal’s most experienced and arguably best player. Luckily for the Bears, Cobbs returned to the bench later with an ice pack around his knee and with a much less noticeable limp.
The diagnosis? Cobbs likely hyperextended his knee, a common injury in many sports. Recovery times vary depending on the severity, but Cal coach Mike Montgomery believes Cobbs’ injury is not serious and went so far as to say the point guard should play in Cal’s next game against Oakland on Friday at 8 p.m.
“He should be back on the court tomorrow,” said teammate Richard Solomon after Tuesday’s game.
That’s a lucky break for the Bears, as only Tyrone Wallace has logged more minutes than Cobbs through the first two games. Without Cobbs, the point guard position would most likely fall to Wallace or freshman Sam Singer. Singer added a couple of steals and sank two threes in the final minutes of Cal’s last game, and he remains a change-of-pace point guard for the Bears.
“If I have (Singer) in, who do I have at the two?” Montgomery said. “I might put him in and put Justin at the two. Put Justin in a more scoring position.”
But even if Cobbs’ minutes are limited Friday, the Bears (2-0) may find they don’t need him. Oakland (0-2) was smashed, 91-60, by UCLA on Tuesday in a defeat that came just days after a crushing 84-61 loss to North Carolina. While those are both ranked teams, Oakland’s struggles stem from more than tough competition. The Golden Grizzlies recorded just a 16-17 record last year, including a first-round exit from the Collegeinsider.com postseason tournament.
Still, Oakland is not bare of talent. Travis Bader is the Grizzlies’ leading scorer and has a natural stroke that makes him lethal from the perimeter. The 2012 mid-major All American led the NCAA with 4.2 threes made per game last season. He shot at an impressive .381 rate from deep last season, and he owns a slightly higher rate through the first two games this year.
Although Cal doesn’t have a deep threat on the same level as Bader, the Bears are a much more balanced team than the Grizzlies. Cal has four players averaging double digits in points, while Oakland has just two. There is also evidence that Cal is a more physical team, as the Bears’ 45.5 rebounds per game far outpaces the Grizzlies’ 25. Cal also has 12 blocks on the season to Oakland’s 3. In nearly every statistical category, Cal dominates.
If that statistical domination transfers to the court Friday, Oakland may be forced into taking 3-point shots just to try to keep up with the Bears, with or without Cobbs. The Grizzlies will need those threes to fall to have a chance.