BERKELEY (CBS/AP) — Allen Crabbe brushed off his confrontation with California coach Mike Montgomery as nothing more than a heat-of-the-moment exchange.
Montgomery said it was part of his plan to get the Pac-12’s leading scorer going.
Whatever it was, it worked — and just might have salvaged the Golden Bears’ season along the way.
Crabbe scored 10 of his 23 points in the final 4 1/2 minutes and California came back from 15 points down in the second half to beat Southern California 76-68 on Sunday night.
“An emotional game was going on at the time and I guess he was just trying to motivate me,” said Crabbe, who also had 10 rebounds and six steals. “But everything’s fine. It’s under the bridge. He’s my coach, no hard feelings. We’re just going to keep moving on.”
The Bears (16-9, 8-5) weren’t going anywhere until the exchange between Montgomery and Crabbe.
The two men got into it during a timeout with 16:31 remaining and Cal down 44-32. Montgomery yelled at Crabbe for his nonchalant play then shoved his star player in the chest with both hands.
An angry Crabbe had to be forcibly restrained and pushed off the court into a nearby tunnel by Justin Cobbs. Center Richard Solomon ran into the tunnel to talk to his teammate as well, and Crabbe didn’t re-emerge until after play had resumed. He took a spot on the end of Cal’s bench before Montgomery put him back in, then took over from that point on.
“Worked, didn’t it?” Montgomery said of the exchange with Crabbe. “Allen had come down twice went to the wrong side of the court and his guy shot two 3s. I was trying to get him going. Probably overdid it a little bit but Allen’s my guy. We can’t win if he is not ready to play.”
The situation definitely sparked Crabbe, who scored 14 points in the second half after the Bears fell behind 47-32.
It also ignited the rest of the Bears, who closed the game on a 25-7 run.
Cobbs scored on a three-point play and Solomon added a short jumper and dunk to make it 47-39. Cobbs then scored Cal’s next six points and Crabbe added a 16-foot jumper, cutting the Trojans’ lead to 54-47.
Southern California, which nearly blew a 14-point lead in Thursday’s win over Stanford, extended its lead to 61-51 after Wesley’s fourth 3-pointer of the game. The Trojans’ sophomore guard had made only nine shots from beyond the arc all season before going 4 of 6 against Cal.
It wasn’t enough.
Brandon Smith scored three straight points, Crabbe hit a 3, David Kravish followed with two free throws and Cobbs made his first 3-pointer of the night to put the Bears up 62-61 with 3:32 left.
Jio Fontan stopped the run with a 3-pointer but Crabbe followed with back-to-back 3s, and the Bears coasted the rest of the way to end Southern California’s four-game winning streak — its longest since 2009.
“They took away what we wanted to do but in the second half we got more aggressive as a team,” Crabbe said. “We just made big plays.”
Cobbs finished with 22 points and six assists, Solomon had 14 points while Kravish added 10 points and nine rebounds.
J.T. Terrell scored 17 points while Byron Wesley and Fontan had 16 apiece for the Trojans (12-14, 7-6), who made just two baskets over the final 6 minutes.
“Crabbe and Cobbs got going, they got some good looks and they knocked them down,” Trojans coach Bob Cantu said. “I think (Crabbe) is the best player in the league. He’s a tremendous talent and can always get going.”
The win helped the Bears inch ahead of the Trojans into a fourth-place tie with Arizona State in the Pac-12, two games behind No. 23 Oregon.
Both teams were streaky in the first half.
USC went on runs of 9-0 and 16-2, getting most of the scoring from Terrell, while California scored 13 consecutive points during one stretch to keep it close.
The see-saw battle continued after Kravish’s putback pulled the Bears within 25-22 with 4:22 left. The two teams exchanged baskets and dunks, Dewayne Dedmon getting his for the Trojans on lob pass from Eric Wise while Crabbe followed up Cobbs’ missed jumper to cut USC’s lead to 32-28 at the break.
Terrell, one of USC’s most consistent scorers over the past month, had 11 points in the first half on 4-of-11 shooting, including a 3-point attempt from more than 30 feet out early in the shot clock.
Southern California started fast again in the second half, going up 47-32 on Terrell’s third 3-pointer of the night. It came as part of a 13-0 run when the Bears and Crabbe appeared to lose their cool.
Instead, the confrontation between Montgomery and Crabbe proved to be the tipping point of the game.
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