Oregon coach Dana Altman, whose Ducks played both teams this season, said Thursday’s NCAA tournament game between Cal and UNLV still is likely to be decided by the star players.
Both teams are improved, Altman said, but Cal’s Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs and Runnin’ Rebels star freshman Anthony Bennett are the difference-makers.
“Crabbe and Cobbs are tremendous competitors and awfully good,” Altman said Wednesday during news conference before Thursday’s games at HP Pavilion. “Getting those guys under control is essential to beating them.”
Crabbe, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, and the Cobbs combine to average better than 34 points.
“Vegas … they’ve just got a lot of players and big players. And Anthony Bennett is special,” Altman said. “We spent a lot of time chasing him around. He’s proven to everybody he’s a special, special players.”
A 6-foot-8, 240-pounder with a mid-range game and the ability to punish defenders inside, Bennett averages 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds. He’s projected as an NBA draft lottery pick this spring.
Altman’s Ducks beat UNLV 83-79 in Las Vegas on Nov. 23, despite 22 points and 10 rebounds from Bennett. Cal twice beat Oregon, winning low-scoring games by margins of 4 and 2 points.
UNLV toppled Cal in Berkeley on Dec. 9, with Bennett going for 25 points and 13 rebounds. Crabbe had 18 points in the game, but Cobbs was limited to 11.
“It’s interesting that they’re playing again in the first round,” Altman said. “I think Cal’s inside game has come along since them. (Transfer Khem) Birch is an addition to UNLV.
“So I think they’re both better than they were in December when they played. So I think it will be a great game.”