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January 29, 2012

Bears host Card in key clash



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BERKELEY -- California men's basketball head coach Mike Montgomery coached at Stanford from 1986 until 2004. While his first few clashes with the Cardinal as the Bears skipper were marked with a bit of emotion and the requisite storylines, now, it's just another game.

"Well, I've never made it [a big deal], even way back across the Bay," Montgomery said. "It felt like it was more manageable if you just allowed it to be a game, rather than try to make more out of it, because then, it hurts more, if you lose."

So far this season, Cal (16-5, 6-2 Pac-12) has yet to lose in the friendly confines of Haas pavilion, going 13-0. That is where the Bears will host their rivals from across the Bay at 5:30 PM on Sunday.

"It's not like football," Montgomery said. "It just doesn't have the same attention, it doesn't have the same significance. It's not The Big Game, where the whole, you've got luncheons six days a week. It's just not. It's two games. It's in the conference. Right now, we're both at the top, so that makes it significant. I think Stanford's really good."

The Cardinal (15-5, 5-3) is in fifth place in the Pac-12, while Cal sits in first -- tied with Oregon, half a game ahead of Colorado and Washington and one game ahead of Stanford.

"They've got a couple of new pieces, and they've definitely done a good job this year, so far, and I just feel like our coaches do a good job at scouting them, and coach Montgomery knows their style from coaching there. I just feel like, if we just do what we do -- Cal basketball -- and just play as a team, I really feel that we'll have good success," said sophomore guard Allen Crabbe. "We play really good team defense sometimes, and sometimes we do lose focus on the defensive end, and that gets us caught in some slip-ups. But, I just feel like if we're just focused for the whole 40 -- on both sides -- I'm pretty sure we'll be solid."

The Cardinal are third in the conference in scoring offense (72.7 ppg), fifth in scoring defense (62.8 ppg), third in three-point defense (33.6 percent), third in rebounding (37.2), fourth in rebounding defense (31.5), second in rebounding margin (+5.8), fourth in steals (6.25 spg) and fifth in turnover margin (+1.50).

Stanford boasts the second-most offensive boards in the league (255), the fifth-most defensive boards (490) and is second in three-point field goals (138 total, 6.90 per game).

"I think it's going to be a really tough game," Montgomery said. "We've got to hold our home court. That makes it significant, in and of itself."

Over the past seven games, the Cardinal's senior forward Josh Owens has been on fire, averaging 14.4 points and 7.4 boards while shooting the lights out at a 61.6-percent clip (45-for-73).

On the season, Owens is shooting 60.9 percent and averaging 13.1 points and 6.3 boards per game to lead Stanford, while Aaron Bright and true freshman Chasson Randle are averaging 12.2 and 12.1 points per game, respectively. Randle has started 19 of the Cardinal's 20 games, and plays 30.1 minutes per contest, shooting 41.1 percent from the field and 39.0 percent from three, right behind off-the-bench sniper John Gage (39.1 percent) and Bright's 43.0 percent mark.

"He's a good player, [but] I don't isolate my thoughts on people," Montgomery said of Randle. "He's a nice addition to them, but they also have a three-year starter in [Jarrett] Mann that's been a pretty good player, and he's used at the guard, and I've seen Brown used at the guard, along with Bright. They've got a lot of people, and Brandon's had some good games for them. He's had a couple games where he's probably won games for them, late. He's a nice addition."

Over that same stretch in which Owens has heated up, though, the Bears have had an emergent weapon of their own in sophomore point guard Justin Cobbs. In the last seven games, Cobbs has averaged 14.4 points. On the season, Cobbs is shooting 50.8 percent from the field and a team-best 53.8 from beyond the arc.

"He's been pretty good," Montgomery said. "He's been pretty good. There are some things he needs to do that we're working on, that sometimes you think we're picking on him, but he's got the chance to be a really good player, if he can just add to his game. He gets to the basket real well. He's been a pretty pleasant surprise."

The Bears rank second in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (60.2), fourth in scoring offense (72.4), first in free throw percentage (74.8), second in shooting percentage (48.5), third in field goal defense (40.4 opponent shooting percentage), first in three-point shooting (40.1 percent), fifth in three-point defense (34.3 percent), fifth in rebounding (35 rpg), first in rebounding defense (30.0 rpg for opponents), fourth in rebounding margin (+5.1), second in assists (16.43 apg), fourth in turnover margin (+1.62) and first in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.37).

A large part of those numbers has been the play of Cobbs.

"He's able to do some things that maybe Brandon [Smith] can't do," Montgomery said. "Brandon has some things that he can do, as well, but his ability to get to the basket -- he's had some really good games, where the lights come on and he's assisted and gotten to the basket and defended. If we can get him to there on a consistent basis, that would really, really help."

Montgomery called Cobbs the best penetrator on the team, behind senior guard Jorge Gutierrez -- the conference's 10th leading scorer. Gutierrez ranks sixth in the league in assists (4.50 per game), behind Cobbs, who has dished out 101 total dimes and has averaged 4.81 per game, good for third in the conference.


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