By Jonathan Okanes
Cal Bear Blog
BERKELEY – Senior Day isn’t the only storyline associated with Cal’s men’s basketball team this week – and that’s a good thing.
It figures to be an emotional afternoon Saturday when the Bears host Colorado in their regular-season finale at Haas Pavilion. It will be the final home game for seniors Justin Cobbs, Richard Solomon and Jeff Powers.
But the stakes should be high for other reasons. Cal hosts Utah on Wednesday before taking on the Buffs, and those two games could have a major impact on the Bears’ postseason fate.
“You look at the positive aspect of things, just try to make these two last games the most cherishing they can be, especially with how important these games are to us,” Cobbs said.
The Bears enter the week 18-11 and tied for third place in the Pac-12 standings. Cal has lost three of its last four and is hungry to get back on track just in time to make the final home week of the season special for its seniors.
“You want to leave everything on the court, these being our last few couple home games,” Solomon said. “We obviously want to get the W. It’s been a great experience. We just want to try to bounce back so we can end the season right.”
Both Solomon and head coach Mike Montgomery acknowledged it’s been a struggle in recent weeks for Solomon, who made substantial strides this season to emerge as one of the conference’s top big men. Restoring Solomon’s effective play would provide a huge boost to a team looking for an NCAA Tournament berth.
“I think he’s putting a lot of pressure on himself,” Montgomery said. “I think he recognizes the season’s almost over and he’s putting pressure on himself. As a result he’s kind of reverted back to doing some of the things that he did early on that weren’t very successful for him. At the end of the day, for us to be successful, he’s got to be successful. He just needs to relax and make plays.”
Solomon still leads the Pac-12 in rebounding (9.8 rpg) and ranks sixth in field goal percentage (.541), numbers that help indicate the vast improvement he’s made since first stepping foot on Cal’s campus. Solomon has overcome personal and academic struggles and added a dose of maturity on and off the court that have helped him become a factor in the Pac-12 this season.
“Richard has come a long way,” Montgomery said. “I’d love to see him come out and finish the last two home games and show that progress and have some feel-good. But he has matured in a lot of different ways. He’s gone through a lot of adversity, which is part of what college is all about.”
After playing sidekick to Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe the past couple of years, Cobbs has emerged as one of the top players in the conference this season. That’s not to say he hadn’t enjoyed a successful career to this point. Cobbs was All-Pac-12 honorable mention as a sophomore and earned second team honors last year.
Cobbs seems to be a lock for first team accolades this season and has provided his share of memorable moments, most notably his last-second baseline jumper that beat No. 1 Arizona on Feb. 1.
“It’s been a long four years,” Cobbs said. “You embrace it. Nothing is going to last forever. You take it for what it’s worth. You take great memories with you and you just try to move forward.”
Powers has helped the Bears win a couple games this season, most notably his 14-point performance on the strength of four 3-pointers in an 88-83 win over Oregon State on Jan. 11. He has scored in double-figures three times this season.
“He’s had some good games and some bright moments, and he’s hung in there,” Montgomery said. “He’s been very, very valuable in terms of being able to plug him in to certain spots. He’s done a really good job of filling in. He’s got a great knowledge of the game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him end up coaching someday.”