STANFORD, Calif. – Cal men’s basketball coach Mike Montgomery took a seat in the interview room at Maples Pavilion on Thursday night and provided his analysis before anyone could ask a question.
“Pretty good stuff,” he said.
There was a lot for the Bears’ sixth-year coach to like. Playing without injured guards Ricky Kreklow and Jabari Bird, Cal got meaningful minutes from reserves Jeff Powers, Christian Behrens, Sam Singer and Kameron Rooks. The Bears also exhibited a wealth of mental toughness after seeing an eight-point second-half lead evaporate on a freak six-point play.
And Montgomery had to especially like the performance of point guard Justin Cobbs down the stretch. The senior made big play after big play to help the Bears open Pac-12 Conference play with a 69-62 victory.
“I thought the kids held their poise pretty well,” said Montgomery, who moved into a tie with Pete Newell on fourth place on Cal’s all-time with list with 119. “We made some big plays down the stretch and were able to come ahead in the thing. We played a lot of combinations of people that had not played very much. To their credit, they held up very nicely.”
The Bears fell behind 12-4 less than four minutes into the game, but mounted a comeback behind Tyrone Wallace. The sophomore made four 3-pointers in the first half, when he scored 14 of his career-high tying 20 points.
Cal took its first lead at 19-18 with 12:09 remaining in the first half and led by eight at 51-43 with 11:03 remaining. But with the Bears holding a 54-49 advantage, Stanford’s Anthony Brown made a 3-pointer as Jordan Mathews was being whistled for a flagrant foul on Dwight Powell. Powell made one of the two free throws, and then Chasson Randle nailed a jumper on the Cardinal’s ensuing possession to give Stanford a 55-54 lead.
Stanford extended it to 56-54, but that’s when Cobbs took over. He scored nine of Cal’s final 15 points, assisted on a dunk by Richard Solomon and registered a key steal and forced turnover.
“The coaches told me to be aggressive,” Cobbs said. “I had the ball in my hands a lot of the time and it worked out for me. I was able to get the ball in the right spots and make plays.”
Cobbs’ 3-point play with 3:31 left put Cal back in front, 57-56. After the Cardinal had cut it to 65-62, the Bears ran the shot clock down and Cobbs nailed a pull-up jumper to make it 67-62 with 25 seconds remaining. Cobbs then forced Randle into a turnover, and he made two more free throws to ice the game.
“Justin has made big shots,” Montgomery said. “He’s pretty good in those situations. Sometimes, he’s more of a reluctant shooter than I think he should be. He should probably look to shoot the ball a little more.”
Cobbs finished with 18 points and five assists while Solomon had his fifth double-double of the season with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Powers had five points, four rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes. Behrens also had four rebounds while tying a career-high with 12 minutes.
“That’s what a team is about,” Cobbs said. “Guys who aren’t used to playing many minutes came in and contributed in a positive way. That’s what makes a team.”