Depth was No. 24 Cal’s biggest issue even before Friday, when starting forward Richard Solomon was suspended indefinitely.
Now it’s a borderline crisis for the Bears.
Coach Mike Montgomery primarily has used just seven players through the club’s first seven games, and acknowledged after Monday’s win over McNeese State: “We’ve got to get some more guys who can score the ball.”
We don’t know when — or if — Solomon will rejoin the team. (Note: I have made calls to pursue details about what happened, but to no avail. I will not guess, speculate or advance rumors here. When I know more, I will pass it on).
Solomon is a raw offensive player and did not figure to be a great scorer this season. But he led the team in rebounding and blocked shots.
And without him, the Bears must go deeper still into a bench that hasn’t produced much beyond the contributions of guard Justin Cobbs and forward David Kravish.
Word is Montgomery may start with four guards Sunday at San Diego State, which would be his most explosive offensive combination. At some point, Kravish will be on the floor to replace the 6-foot-10 Solomon in the starting lineup.
Cobbs, the sophomore transfer from Minnesota, has given the Bears a big lift off the bench as the team’s as the team’s third-leading scorer and assist leader.
“I think I have a lot of room to grow,” he said earlier in the week. “That’s the big thing, that I keep getting better.”
The trickiest part of things so far for Cobbs is learning a new position. He’s been a point guard most of his basketball life, and now he’s being asked to play both the 1 and 2. If the Bears use a four-guard lineup, Brandon Smith would be the point and Cobbs will play the 2.
“I’ve never played the 2 in organized basketball. I like it,” Cobbs said. “I get to score the ball. I never used to have come off screens and have to set my feet. I’m learning that. It’s helping me a lot.”
Cobbs said he feels comfortable with any combination on the floor. “I think our team is really talented,” he said. “Having Jorge (Gutierrez) and Allen (Crabbe) and all of us on the court at the same time, that can make us hard to guard.”
What Montgomery needs — now, more than ever — is for players such as Emerson Murray, Robert Thurman and Bak Bak to hold serve when they enter the game.
“The bench thing’s problematic only from the standpoint that if you’re 16 points or whatever and you make two or three substitutions, you can’t afford to have swings,” Montgomery said. “Go in and play 4-5-6 minutes and we gain two points or lose two points, play pretty much even, I’m OK with that.
“But if everytime we do that, we lose our momentum or have an eight-point swing, that’s not going to work. I can’t just keep putting the (starting) guys back in and expect them build it back up again. We’ll continue to work at our depth.”
ON THE AZTECS: San Diego State (7-2) was expected to make a dramatic dropoff after losing four key players from last season’s best-ever 34-3 campaign. Instead, they have hardly skipped a beat losing only two Baylor and Creighton while posting victories over Arizona (on the road), USC, Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara. “Oh, they’re really good,” Montgomery said.
The Aztecs have five Division I transfers on their roster, although two of them are sitting out this season. Still, starters Xavier Thames (Washington State), James Rahon (Santa Clara) and Garrett Green (LSU) combine to score nearly 31 points per game. Montgomery is impressed by how Aztecs coach Steve Fisher has made it work. “They almost recruit to get guys who are bounce-backs,” Montgomery said. “He’s done a really good job. They’ve got it going right now. They’re excited about their basketball.”
Montgomery, interviewed before Solomon’s suspension, said he expected a challenging game from the Aztecs. “With San Diego State, it’s still a big deal for them to play us (from the Pac-12). They’ll have a big crowd. It’s going to be a really competitive game from the standpoint of their preparation and their motivation.”
THE SERIES: Tied 4-4. San Diego State State won 77-57 last year in Berkeley, although players who scored 52 of the Aztecs’ points no longer are with the team. Cal is 2-2 all-time in road games vs. San Diego State.
MISCELLANY: Cal has outrebounded its first seven opponents and leads the Pac-12 with a plus-9.9 margin. That will be tested by the Aztecs, who are at plus-3.8 . . . Cal leads the conference in free-throw accuracy at 75.0 percent . . . Justin Cobbs (27 for 29) and Jorge Gutierrez (23 for 25) are 1-2 in the Pac-12 in FT percentage at 93.1 and 92.0, respectively . . . Crabbe’s 21 3-point baskets are more than any Pac-12 player has made . . . SDSU’s past five games have been decided by four points or fewer.
TIPOFF: 2 p.m. Sunday at Viejas Arena, San Diego. Radio: 910-AM.
Cal (6-1, 0-0 Pac-12)
|SF Allen Crabbe||6-6||So.||14.3||5.3|
|PF Harper Kamp||6-8||Sr.||10.0||5.6|
|SG Justin Cobbs||6-2||So.||11.0||4.1*|
|SG Jorge Gutierrez||6-3||Sr.||14.6||5.6|
|PG Brandon Smith||5-11||Jr.||6.7||2.9*|
|F David Kravish||6-9||Fr.||4.7||5.1|
|F Bak Bak||6-9||Jr.||1.6||1.0|
|G Emerson Murray||6-3||So.||1.7||0.6|
San Diego State (7-2, 0-0 Mountain West)
|PF Garrett Green||6-11||Sr.||7.1||7.1|
|SF Tim Shelton||6-7||Sr.||3.9||4.2|
|SG Chase Tapley||6-3||Jr.||16.3||4.3|
|SG James Rahon||6-5||Jr.||10.8||3.5|
|PG Xavier Thames||6-3||So.||12.8||5.1*|
|F Jamaal Franklin||6-5||So.||16.1||5.5|
|F DeShawn Stephens||6-8||Jr.||5.1||5.7|
|G LaBradford Franklin||6-2||So.||3.6||1.2|