BERKELEY (CBS / AP) — Mike Montgomery returned to the bench three-plus weeks after undergoing surgery for bladder cancer and coached No. 24 California to a 77-56 season-opening victory over UC Irvine and former assistant Russell Turner on Friday night.
Allen Crabbe scored 24 points, Jorge Gutierrez had 11 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, and Cal shot 45.9 percent. The Golden Bears jumped out to a 19-7 lead and controlled the game the entire way.
Fourth-year coach Montgomery moved well on the sideline and showed no signs of being limited. He spent a short stint away from the team to recover following the procedure on Oct. 19 and said he is now cancer-free.
Montgomery faced his former assistant from his days at both Stanford and the Golden State Warriors in Turner, the second-year Anteaters coach who worked under Montgomery at Stanford from 2000-04 and then in the NBA from ‘04-06.
At one point, Montgomery showed some of his typical emotion and fire when he caught an errant pass thrown out of bounds by Cal reserve center Bak Bak with just under 10 minutes to go. Montgomery strongly bounced the ball in frustration before talking to guard Justin Cobbs.
A sophomore guard, Cobbs made his Cal debut after sitting out last season following his transfer from Minnesota.
The Bears, who beat UC San Diego 88-53 in their lone exhibition game last week, shot 53.3 percent in the first half on the way to a 48-23 lead at the break and only built on that over the final 20 minutes.
Chris McNealy scored 12 for the overmatched Anteaters, who shot 39.3 percent and were outrebounded 47-28.
Richard Solomon and Harper Kamp each grabbed eight rebounds for a Cal team picked to finish second in the Pac-12 after going 18-15 last season and reaching the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.
Cal is in the preseason rankings for the fourth time in program history and first since it was 13th in 2009, when the Bears went on to win their first Pac-10 crown in 50 years and advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Gutierrez, Cal’s senior leader and top returning scorer after averaging 14.6 points per game last season, Crabbe and Kamp give the Bears a formidable trio of scorers and also are the team’s most experienced players.
Crabbe, the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year last season, shot 10 for 19 and scored Cal’s first seven points of the second half and had a steal in the backcourt followed by a pretty one-handed dunk to put the Bears ahead 55-30 with 17:37 remaining to liven up the crowd at Haas Pavilion.
Cal made eight of its first 14 shots on the way to a 21-9 lead 8:21 into the game, with Crabbe scoring eight and hitting two 3s. Eight different Bears players had a basket in the first half.
UC Irvine freshman Will Davis II had double-doubles in both of the Anteaters’ two exhibition wins—averaging 11.5 points and 10.5 rebounds—but went 4 for 14 from the floor for eight points to go with nine rebounds.
Turner, who has one of the country’s youngest rosters with only five returning players, eight freshmen and no seniors will keep his team in the Bay Area to play at San Jose State on Monday night.
UC Irvine has not won in its last five season openers since 2007. The Anteaters haven’t beaten a team from the Pac-12 since a 79-63 win at Stanford on Nov. 19, 2005.
This marked the schools’ first meeting since Cal’s 65-57 victory on Dec. 3, 2003, in Berkeley. Cal, 4-0 in season openers under Montgomery, leads the series 5-2.
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