Monty's 'motivation' overshadows wild win

Whatever the intent of head coach Mike Montgomery, California emerges as a different team after timeout shove.

BERKELEY, Calif. – What the hell was that?

There are no fewer than 1,000 ways to answer that question, none of them satisfactory to describe the bizarre, controversial, ultimately enthralling and completely entertaining 76-68 win by California over USC at Haas Pavilion on Sunday night.

There were problems with one shot clock that wasn't working properly before the game even tipped off, setting the stage for wild runs by both teams, wild shots by both teams, guard Justin Cobbs overcoming a second-half knee injury, and the shove of guard Allen Crabbe by head coach Mike Montgomery during a timeout that ultimately overshadowed everything else that happened, including the 25-7 run to end the game fueled largely by the standout junior.

"That's going to be the deal," Montgomery acknowledged during his post-game press conference. "No question."

Calling a timeout with 16:31 left to play after a 10-0 USC run that included two Crabbe defensive breakdowns resulting in Byron Wesley three-pointers, Montgomery pushed Crabbe in the chest with two hands, leading to a verbal exchange between the two. Forward Richard Solomon then grabbed Crabbe by the jersey, followed by Cobbs ushering Crabbe off the bench and into the tunnel.

Replaced on the court by reserve Brandon Smith, Crabbe returned to the bench after a few moments and was immediately ushered by Montgomery to the scorer's table to check back into the game, missing just 12 seconds of game time.

All parties involved were quick to downplay the situation, with Montgomery describing it as "motivation.

"It worked, didn't it?" Montgomery said with his first words.

"I was trying to get him going," he added.

"I was asking him if he wanted to play. He had no expression."

Montgomery also said that the actions of Solomon and Cobbs made it appear to be something more than it was.

"Probably over-exaggerated it, but what I think over-exaggerated it was everybody jumping up and grabbing hold of him like it was a deal," Montgomery said. "Probably overdid it a little bit, but Allen's my guy. I need him. I can't win if he's not ready to play."

Maybe Cal just needed to get mad and take up a cause against a common enemy, with Montgomery offering himself up as that unifying opponent. Maybe he knows how to engage Crabbe. Maybe he just got mad.

Whatever Montgomery's true intentions were, it certainly served to spark Crabbe, who scored all 14 of his second-half points after the incident, and his teammates to play with the energy that had been lacking previously.

"Late he had blocks, he had rebounds, he was shooting the ball in," Montgomery said. "Mentally we just needed a wake-up call."

Though Montgomery had publicly downplayed the possibility of a letdown Thursday night after defeating UCLA, privately he knew better. Those fears were realized as USC opened the game to take a 9-2 lead, adding a 12-0 spurt midway through the first half.

"I was really fearful that we were going to come out like we did," Montgomery said. "They got really physical and we got frustrated, so we stood around and let them get away with it."

The 10-0 run served as the last straw for Montgomery, who then unloaded on his team as they were threatening to undo all the good from their 3-1 stretch against the top four teams in the Pac-12.

"We needed to get back and playing like we had the last couple weeks, " Montgomery said.

But after Crabbe knocked down back-to-back threes, the go-ahead score with 2:39 to play to give Cal a 65-64 lead and another 31 seconds later to push the advantage to four, Montgomery put his arm around him during the ensuing USC timeout.

"Allen's my guy," Montgomery said. "I just said, ‘A little motivation goes a long way,' and he kind of smiled."

Still, the act drew wide notice on Twitter, with some defending Montgomery, while others pondered what the end result would have been if a less well-liked coach had been responsible.

"I want to win. I get involved," Montgomery said.

Ultimately, it may have little lasting impact, beyond the rally it might have sparked, setting up a critical game Thursday night between Cal and conference leader Oregon with dramatic implications on the regular-season title chase and post-season jockeying.

What the hell was that?

Depends on what you were watching - the shove, everything that came before it, or everything that came after - because that's where the answer comes from.

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