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Cal looks to return to NCAA tourney without Crabbe

Thursday - 10/31/2013, 12:48pm  ET

JANIE McCAULEY
AP Sports Writer

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- Mike Montgomery is getting rather used to losing his leading scorer, then finding a reliable replacement or two to carry the load as California continues winning year after year.

This time around, the Golden Bears lost Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe, who is now playing for the Portland Trail Blazers.

"I think that replacing Allen is always going to be a tough thing to do," senior point guard Justin Cobbs said.

With added depth in the backcourt to complement Cobbs, Montgomery is confident Cal will have a more balanced offensive attack as it looks to return to the NCAA tournament. The Bears have played in the NCAAs in three of the past four seasons but haven't advanced to the round of 16.

"We've got a good group of kids," said Montgomery, beginning his sixth season as coach. "Those guys should be able to make up for the loss of Allen."

Cal has rebuilt after losing a star player before. The Bears had three of the past four conference players of the year, with Crabbe following Jerome Randle in 2010 and Jorge Gutierrez in 2012.

Here are five things to know about California, which tied for second place in the conference in 2012-13, going into this season:

HEALTHY COBBS: Cobbs is nearly back to full strength from a right foot injury that required surgery in August. Cal's dynamic point guard and leading returning scorer averaged 15.1 points and his 4.8 assists ranked fourth in the Pac-12. "We probably need to caution ourselves to not let him get fatigued and have something happen as a result," Montgomery said. Cobbs will have help from sophomore guard Tyrone Wallace and freshman Jordan Mathews -- not to mention freshman sensation Jabari Bird. "We have a lot more depth at the guard position than we did last year, so this year guys can come out of the game and replace other guys and there's no drop off," Cobbs said.

BIRD WATCHING: For a program that has boasted superstar names such as Jason Kidd and Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Bird is certainly bringing some attention with him to campus. A highly touted 6-foot-6 freshman guard from nearby Richmond's Salesian High, Bird is among the top recruits in the country and will make an immediate impact. Bird is an accurate shooter but he also will look to get to the basket to create plays. And Montgomery wants Cobbs to take charge and make sure the Bears are best using Bird to his strengths at this early stage. "I am always leery about the attention that freshmen get, because I think that the adjustment of a freshman coming into a successful college program is always a little bit difficult," Montgomery said. "He's a terrific kid, very talented, probably the most high-profile freshman that we have ever had since I've been at California. And he's going to be a great player. So what I want to do is make sure that we're not pushing him to try to do things that he's not comfortable with. I want him to learn the game, because I think he's got a great future."

SOLOMON SHOULDERS THE LOAD: Richard Solomon must take on a larger load in his senior season considering Cal's lack of experience in the post. The 6-foot-10, 235-pound Solomon will be called upon to pound the paint with larger big men around the Pac-12. He averaged 7.0 points and 5.7 rebounds last season. "Richard should be improved," Montgomery said.

YOUTH MOVEMENT: Out of 14 players, eight haven't played much -- and that includes five freshmen. "There's growing pains that way. We have to remind ourselves to be patient," Montgomery said. "Sometimes you get frustrated with what the young guys don't know, and you have to remember they're young. It's just going to take time. ... Our freshmen are going to play. There are three or four of them that are going to play quite a bit."

FAMILIAR NAME: Roger Moute a Bidias is the 6-7 freshman younger brother of former UCLA star Luc Mbah a Moute, who won't be far away as he now plays for the Sacramento Kings. Montgomery likes his athleticism and long arms, but the forward still lacks experience. He could help defensively with his quickness to hit the boards and control loose balls. "There's a learning curve right now," Montgomery said.


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