BERKELEY — Coach Mike Montgomery insists that the hoopla surrounding his shove of forward Allen Crabbe isn’t distracting his team as it prepares to meet No. 23 Oregon in Eugene on Thursday.
With four wins in five games, the Bears (16-9, 8-5) are not only contending for an NCAA Tournament berth, a win over Oregon (21-5, 10-3) would put them within a game of first place in the Pac-12 Conference.
And while the drama on the sideline is overshadowing the Bears’ turnaround on the court, Montgomery said Tuesday the team is growing because of the experience.
“I don’t think it’s a problem for the team,” he said. “We have a good enough relationship; they know me well enough. If anything, they’ve asked me to be harder on them in practice. It’s a great life lesson for them to recognize the consequences of actions.”
The Bears coach said he regrets turning the spotlight away from his team’s play on the court.
“It’s always been about the team, it’s never been about me,” he said. “I think in time if we continue to play good basketball, this will be something that was a regretful incident and we can push on and try to be the team we want to be.”
Crabbe defends his coach: Crabbe left the Cal bench to gather himself momentarily after his altercation with Montgomery. But the junior forward insists that the incident is “water under the bridge.”
“It was just an emotional game. Coach tried to get me fired up,” he said. “People may look at that as the wrong way to fire up a player, but I didn’t take anything negative out of the situation. I just felt like he was doing it to help me pick up my play.”
Crabbe said the shove is getting, “blown out of proportion” and he doesn’t think Montgomery should be suspended for the incident.
“He expects a lot out of me,” he said. “If I want to be a leader on this team, I can’t play lackadaisical.”
Cobbs catches fire, too: Crabbe is the Pac-12’s Player of the Week for the second week in a row, but the team is surging in the conference standings, in part, because junior guard Justin Cobbs is also finding his stroke. Cobbs opened the Pac-12 season shooting 18-of-57 from the field in Cal’s first five games. But in Cal’s three game winning streak, Cobbs is 22-of-46, scoring an average of 18.3 points per game.
Montgomery said the return of senior point guard Brandon Smith from concussion symptoms is reducing the load on Cobbs’ shoulders.
“Brandon does a great job of running the club and we can move Ty [Wallace] and Cobbs to the two,” he said.