BERKELEY (CBS / AP) — Jorge Gutierrez scored a season-high 26 points to go with six rebounds and five assists, and No. 24 California matched its best start under coach Mike Montgomery with a 73-57 victory over McNeese State on Monday night.
Allen Crabbe had 20 points and six rebounds and Harper Kamp scored 10 for the Golden Bears (6-1), who overcame a shaky first half before opening an 18-point lead. Cal also started 6-1 in Montgomery’s first year in 2008.
Patrick Richard had 18 points and Dontae Cannon scored 15 for the Cowboys (3-3), going 1-1 on a rare West Coast trip. The defending Southland Conference champions beat Sacramento State two days earlier.
The Bears stumbled at the start with a rare lack of hustle against an overmatched opponent.
McNeese State’s 2-3 zone gave Cal fits, and the small school from Louisiana sucked all the energy out of an already quiet—and half-empty—Haas Pavilion for what was supposed to be a tune-up test for the home team.
Instead, it almost became an upset.
The Cowboys opened with an 8-2 lead capped by Cannon’s jumper, diving for loose balls and running into the stands at one point to save a steal. Not until Kamp’s jumper more than 7 minutes into the half did Cal take its first lead at 10-8.
McNeese State regained the lead and held firm until the buzzer.
With the clock ticking down, Gutierrez snatched a defensive rebound and sprinted up court, almost losing his balance until flinging a pass from behind his head at half court to Crabbe on the wing. Crabbe rose up near the Cowboys bench and sunk a 3-pointer as time expired, giving the Bears a 28-26 halftime lead and bringing fans to their feet in the loudest ovation of the night.
Everything reverted to form from there.
The Bears bolted out on a 10-2 run in the second half highlighted by Richard Solomon’s three-point play, converting a layup as he was fouled by Cannon. Cal eventually went ahead 55-37, the Cowboys sliced the deficit before the Bears took control again.
Montgomery still won’t feel satisfied about his Bears shaky shooting and defense.
The play seemed awfully similar to Cal’s 92-53 loss at No. 13 Missouri last week—with the Tigers then-ranked 21st—before returning home to beat Denver. While the Bears can sneak by in the early going on talent, they’ll need more complete performances if they expect to challenge for the Pac-12 title.
McNeese State’s West Coast trip also included a stop at Sacramento State, where the Cowboys gave coach Dave Simmons his 100th career coaching victory two days earlier. McNeese State overcame a 17-point halftime deficit before rallying for a 68-63 victory at Sacramento State.
The finish at Berkeley had far less drama.
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