What the heck happen that caused you to lose to Just SC?
atomsareenough: I hate to point to non-basketball reasons, but to my mind it seems pretty straightforward. We were 5-0 and feeling pretty good about ourselves, coming off comfortable wins against the Washington schools at home. USC was 0-5 and sick of losing. We didn't take them seriously, and the effort level simply wasn't there from the outset. The Trojans played hard and shot the ball well, both making circus shots in the lane and nailing outside shots at a good rate, and unlike our previous slow starts which we were able to overcome, the Bears never got things into gear well enough to win this one. Not enough shots were falling for us, and we weren't stopping the point of attack on defense. USC had a good gameplan and executed it very well. They were really physical in the paint, which the refs were allowing for a change. So lots of credit to the Trojans, but they brought their A game while we were sleepwalking, and that's a deadly combo. Anyway, hopefully the fact that we were looking past USC means we're extra amped for Sunday's game against you guys. But it doesn't really speak very well about the maturity of this Cal team.
How are you replacing Allen Crabbe?
atomsareenough: In a word, depth. I believe this team has 5 players averaging in double-figures, so we're not nearly as one-dimensional as we were last year. Forwards Solomon and Kravish have really progressed well to give us an interior scoring dimension, Cobbs has his mid-range game, Powers has been lighting it up behind the arc, and freshmen Mathews and Bird have had some big games. So, while no one player has replaced Crabbe, everyone who came back has noticeably improved and the freshmen have picked up some of the scoring slack as well. So we're not missing him this year, and I'll even go so far as to say that I believe this year's team is better than last year's team. Or at least it will be by the end of the year.
While he has been hurt, how is Jabari Bird working out? Is he the next Allen Crabbe?
atomsareenough: I think Jabari is more athletic than Crabbe, so I feel like he has a higher ceiling as an all-around scorer. Obviously he hasn't been as immediately impactful as his fellow McDonald's All-American Aaron Gordon has over at Arizona, but if Jabari sticks around he'll be one of the best players in the conference over the next couple of years. He's already shown flashes of his skill and athleticism. Like Crabbe, he's a great natural shooter. He's been mature enough to play within himself and focus on setting up his teammates as he works his way back from his injury. If he can learn to play defense consistently, he'll be a great one.
Speaking of Crabbe has the Montgomery pushing incident been completely forgotten? Are there any lingering effects from the incident?
atomsareenough: Yes, more or less. Well, I'll say it hasn't been forgotten, but more that it's been put into the appropriate context of Montgomery's entire character and history and deemed not to be at all significant. If something new happened then maybe we'd have to reconsider it in a different light, but for now there's absolutely reason to give it a second thought. And no, there are no lingering effects. I can't imagine why or what those would be.
UCLA had a tough time in recent years with former walk on Robert Thurman. Who is the new unexpected player that UCLA fans should watch out for that could have a big game?
atomsareenough: I'll give you a few. Most obviously, current walk-on Jeff Powers has been shooting nearly 60% from 3-point range. That's pretty unexpected. Also, Tyrone Wallace, though his last couple of games haven't been so great, has been much improved this year and has been filling the stat sheet in multiple categories. Also, I'll say that freshman Jordan Mathews, though overshadowed as a recruit by Jabari Bird, has shown he is capable of being a big-time scorer on any given night.
Jordan Matthews is the son of a former UCLA assistant coach. Yet, UCLA never considered recruiting him as they apparently did not feel he was athletic enough. Is Jordan more than a shooter? Can he play defense at an elite level?
atomsareenough: Defense has been a work in progress for all the freshman, but I'd say Mathews has held his own. He's been better defensively than Bird, for sure. I expect them all to improve markedly under Montgomery's tutelage though. He may not jump out of the gym, but it's never once occurred to me to think that Mathews is lacking in athleticism.
Lastly, what surprises you about this year's Cal team?
atomsareenough: Depth! We can haz it. Seriously, this is the deepest team that
Montgomery has ever had at Cal. That's not to say that the second 5 is nearly as good as the starting 5, but we can run up to 10 guys out there during the course of a non-blowout conference game, which feels like an absolute luxury. The bench guys have mostly embraced their roles and been solid contributors. Jeff Powers has been a revelation as a spot-up shooter. Christian Behrens has come back from knee surgery to buy some valuable minutes of rest for Richard Solomon and David Kravish. Awkward freshman 7-footer Kameron Rooks has been steadily improving as well. Sam Singer has shown some ability to run the point.