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February 11, 2012
Bears aim for LA sweep in afternoon tilt with Bruins
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Now in a flat-footed tie with Washington for the top spot in the Pac-12, California heads into Saturday's clash with UCLA with a rare opportunity for a road sweep, something the Bears have yet to do this season in conference play. After defeating the Huskies 69-66 in Seattle on Jan. 19, Cal had a golden opportunity to do just that, but fell 77-75 to Washington State in Pullman, Wash. Terrance Archer having run track for UCLA, and first cousin Russell Westbrook having starred for the Bruins just three years ago, before going pro with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"Just seeing him go there and do well was a big thing, and he was able to do big things from there, and go to the NBA. Then, also, my step-father, he ran track for UCLA, and then he was on a national championship team. Everybody's going to UCLA, so it was like, 'Why not?'" Cobbs said of his youthful desire to play for the Bruins.
Without an offer from the hometown team, Cobbs went to Minnesota before transferring to Cal, and now, he's scrambling for tickets for the 30-plus family and friends who want to be in attendance for his homecoming.
"It's mostly family," Cobbs smiled at the weekly press conference. "The friends are going to have to purchase some tickets."
Cobbs also has some current personal connections with UCLA, having played AAU ball with both Travis Wear and David Wear.
"They're physical. They have great bigs. Travis and David were on my AAU team, so I know their game a little bit. They're crafty. They're skilled guys," Cobbs said. "We talk. Before the game, maybe not too much, but after the game, we're all friends."
This weekend marks the first time that Cobbs will be playing at home in front of such a large fan club. While with the Golden Gophers, Cobbs played in the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif., but scored just seven points in 20 minutes over three games. When he takes the floor on Saturday, he will be the Bears' starting point guard.
"When I was at Minnesota, we played at the Anaheim Classic, and a couple were able to make it, but I didn't play too much, so this will be the first real time they've been able to see me play," Cobbs said. "I'll be more excited [than nervous]. It's almost like high school again, like having a little more dominant role on a team that's doing very well, on top of the conference, and going out there, being able to do what I love, and that's playing basketball."
Cobbs is a bit disappointed that he won't be playing on the legendary floor of Pauley Pavilion -- which is currently undergoing renovation -- but it won't be the first time he's hit the hardwood at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
"They're rebuilding, but just knowing the history there, always growing up, we knew what it was like, playing at Pauley. Playing them, it's still a fun game, and they're a great team this year and they're doing well right now," Cobbs said. "Before we went to State, we played against Klay Thompson in the semifinals in that arena, so I've played there before."
Last time out against the Bruins, the Bears turned in perhaps their most complete victory of the season, stomping UCLA to the tune of 85-69 in Berkeley, with Cobbs chipping in 13 points and a career-high eight assists, while fellow Los Angeles native Allen Crabbe led the way with 20 points and four three-pointers. A win in Los Angeles would mark the first time since the 1993-94 season that Cal has swept the Bruins both at home and on the road, but they'll have to do it without yet another LA native in academically-ineligible Richard Solomon.
Solomon's absence will prove to be a key factor down low, with big Joshua Smith's 6-foot-10, 305-pound frame finding no match among the Bears' remaining post players: 6-foot-9, 210-pound true freshman David Kravish -- who grabbed a career-high 18 boards on Thursday against USC -- and 6-foot-10, 250-pound Robert Thurman, who has averaged 5.3 points and 2.2 boards per game in conference play.
"Well, we don't have a lot of choices, one way or the other. He's our third post, so, as we've mentioned before, he's at least, size-wise, still within 100 pounds of Smith, so maybe he can at least hold his own, a little bit in there."
However, Cal played without Solomon in the last match-up, holding Smith to just 2-of-5 shooting, six points and four boards in 20 minutes.
"Big Josh, he's a big presence down there," Cobbs said. "I just know how big and physical they were, and they're a defensive-minded team. We were able to execute our motion offense that game and it worked out for us, and we defended well, also."
Smith has been an enigma for the Bruins this season, scoring as many as 24 points in 26 minutes against the Huskies and reaching double-figure points in 13 games, but scoring just one point in 13 minutes against then-No. 14 Kansas and scoring six or fewer points seven times this season.
"He's always effective," Montgomery said. "I think they went to him, and one of the Wears was out, Saturday night, so they used him more, went to him more. Of course, he's in Washington, which is his home state. Maybe he's in better shape. Maybe they're getting more confidence in him. I don't know. If he can get the ball where he wants to get it, he's going to be productive."
Over his last five games, Smith has averaged 14.4 points and 5.4 boards, as the Bruins have gone 4-1 to sixth place in the Pac-12.
"I think they switched [Jerime] Anderson to the point and put [Lazeric] Jones to the off guard, which puts Jones in a position to be more of a scorer, and that's helped them," Montgomery said. "[Tyler] Lamb's been a little bit more productive, they've settled on a lineup that they're comfortable with and the rotations. The Wears have gotten some games under their belts, so I think they know who they are, and they know what they need to do."
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