Jabari Bird, Jordan Mathews and Sam Singer are not walking through the Haas Pavilion doors any time soon. For the California basketball team, that's a big problem. With guards Ricky Kreklow and Brandon Smith sidelined with a nagging foot injury and a concussion -- respectively -- the Bears have just five healthy scholarship guards on the roster.
One -- freshman Khalil Johnson -- played early in the season, but shot the ball just four times in 16 minutes over five games. He has not played more than five minutes in any game.
Two -- Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe -- are among the best guards in the league, scoring-wise, with Crabbe sitting pretty atop the league with a 21.4 ppg scoring average, and Cobbs coming in at eighth with 15.6 points per game.
That leaves just two guards left, and because of the injury to Smith, true freshman Tyrone Wallace has moved into the starting lineup. That leaves 6-foot-7 junior Jeff Powers coming off the bench.
With sophomore big man Christian Behrens falling victim to his second ACL tear in the past three years, the post rotation has been pared down to sophomore David Kravish, junior Richard Solomon, senior Robert Thurman and little-used senior Bak Bak, who has played just 33 minutes all season, shooting 3-of-11 from the field with just four rebounds.
Over the first five games -- as the Bears went 5-0 -- Montgomery's bench averaged 60.6 minutes per game. Starting with the DirecTV Classic final against Pacific, though, Montgomery began to use his bench very sparingly. Counting that game, Cal has since seen its bench average just 44.8 minutes per contest, putting that much more pressure on the starters.
That won't do against Washington tonight.
"I don't have any choice. They're just going to have to go ahead and produce," Montgomery said of his bench players.
With a longer, more athletic lineup akin to UCLA and UNLV, the Huskies are fifth in the Pac-12 in rebounding defense, allowing 33.2 boards per game. Washington is also fourth in offensive boards per game (12.4) – something with which Cal has struggled mightily this season, allowing an average of 10.3 offensive boards per contest, allowing double digits in all but six games. Washington is also fourth in the league in blocked shots, averaging 4.7 per game.
While Kravish and Solomon has been off-and-on down low this season, Montgomery's best weapon on the boards may very well wind up being Thurman, who pulled down a team-high eight rebounds off the bench on Saturday against the Trojans, battling against 7-foot-2 center Omar Oraby and 7-footer DeWayne Dedmon.
"Robert should be able to rebound," Montgomery said. "He actually jumps away from the basket, and can get up and get the ball. Robert's just a lack of experience of reacting to balls in different situations. He did a great job of rebounding, and he got a little stubborn with a couple shot attempts, where he should have kicked it out, rather than trying to score the ball. But, Robert can rebound the ball. Sometimes, I wonder why he doesn't get more, because he's big and he's strong and can actually get off his feet pretty well when he faces the ball."
Thurman has actually been more productive than Kravish, adjusting for time spent on the floor. Thurman has not started a single game, but averages 0.283 points per minute, while Kravish averages 0.243.
Powers – who set a school record with 18 points in a single quarter in high school – has averaged 0.238 points per minute on the floor, and has gone 5-for-10 shooting and 3-for-6 from three-point range.
"The real issue we have is that we started the year with lack of guard depth and we lost two of them, so that's put Jeff Powers into a position where he's just got to play the two and the three," Montgomery said. "He's a smart kid, fortunately, because in practice, we can't put him on [...] I don't have enough guys to put him over on one team, because I don't have anybody to put over there in his place. Jeff is just going to be given more opportunities, and hopefully, he can capitalize on them."
Powers, though, needs to be put in positions where he can succeed. He won't take many Pac-12 defenders off the dribble, and you won't see him driving the lane very often, if at all. With the transfers of Emerson Murray and Alex Rossi, as well as the injuries to Smith and Kreklow, Powers is the Bears' most reliable three-point option behind Crabbe and Cobbs. Crabbe is a career 37.8-percent three-point shooter (169-for-429), and has hit 36.4 percent of his shots from beyond the arc this year. Cobbs, on the other hand, shot 41.3 percent from long distance last season, and this year, has hit just 7-of-25 (28 percent). Including this season, Powers is 16-for-45 in his career in Berkeley (35.6 percent).
For 98:05 over four games, Cal was held without a single three-point basket. That can't happen against the Huskies for the Bears to come out on top, especially considering that Washington is 10th in the league in three-point defense, allowing opponents to hit 35.3 percent of their shots from three-point land.
"He's a smart player, and understands that he's not just going to blow by people and throw down dunks and all of that kind of stuff," Montgomery said of Powers, who broke the streak of three-point futility . "He's trying to contribute to others as a passer and know what he's doing and be in the right spot, and he was very opportunistic [at USC]. He got a couple kick-outs and drilled them."
Ryan Gorcey publishes Cal Sports Digest and writes about Major League Baseball for FOXSportsNEXT. Follow him on Twitter @RGBearTerritory.
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