Lessons taking hold for surging Bears

Analysis: Having finally learned its lessons, California's teamwork and effort meld in a nearly-flawless first half to blast UCLA.

BERKELEY, Calif. – California has been looking to play a complete 40 minutes for the better part of two months. It didn't happen Thursday, but no one was complaining.

The Golden Bears channeled enough of the lessons from their signature wins over Oregon and Arizona to deliver a first-half St. Valentine's Day massacre of UCLA, then coast to the final buzzer.

They were inspired from the start, channeling their energy into both offense and defense. They played smart and hard, they played with passion and precision, looking like the team they were expected to be.

"This is the team we should have been all season. This is the team we can be," said forward David Kravish, who scored a career-high 18 points and added 13 rebounds.

What stood out is that this was a complete performance. Where Allen Crabbe almost single-handedly keyed the upset of the Wildcats with his prolific scoring, he barely stood out on this night, aside from a devastating one-handed dunk.

Guards Justin Cobbs and Tyrone Wallace made the right decisions, combining for 15 assists against two turnovers.

Kravish and Richard Solomon made the right plays, knowing when to drive and spin and shoot, when to attack for offensive rebounds and protect the defensive glass. They combined for 35 points, on 16-of-21 shooting, and 21 rebounds.

Everyone contributed, so everyone was invested.

"It was just fun," Crabbe said. "When you are beating a team like that and everybody is involved, everybody is just happy. It makes you want to play harder because you want to build on the lead and keep having fun with your team."

Too often this season Cal has been simply a showcase for Crabbe, with occasional guest appearances from Cobbs. When Crabbe delivered a big performance, they won. If not, they lost.

This was the team game that has been head coach Mike Montgomery's trademark.

The biggest improvements came on the front line. Montgomery has called out Solomon and Kravish for their inability to consistently score or rebound or defend, but it seems to have finally taken hold.

"It really starts with us because if we get the rebounds and play hard then the team is going to be able to get out and start running," Kravish said. "That's when everybody gets fired up. We got to bring the energy and the intensity."

Crabbe echoed that sentiment, marveling to himself at Solomon and Kravish's production as he went through the box score before the post-game press conference formally started.

It has been a consistent, steady improvement from them, and the team as a whole, putting Cal back in contention for the NCAA Tournament and perhaps the Pac-12 title.

Still, there were moments in the second half when the crowd at Haas Pavilion got noticeably tense as UCLA threatened to make it a game, opening on a 14-4 run before Cal stabilized with nine straight points. Then, with 4:21 left to play, Jordan Adams missed a corner three-pointer that would have made it an 11-point margin.

That, along with the lone blemish during this four-game stretch at Arizona State, should serve as enough of a warning to avoid a let-down Sunday evening against USC. But Montgomery bristled at the question because he knows it could happen, which would negate the value of the wins over Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA.

"I hope it's not a product of guys saying, ‘Boy, these guys are really good, let's play hard,' and then not doing that against others," Montgomery said. "Kids have funny thought processes, thinking maybe we don't have to play as hard. We have to play hard. Every game is going to be a challenge for us."

Cal seems to have figured things now, just as the schedule becomes extremely favorable.

Now if then can just get that complete game.

Dan Greenspan writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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