HANSEN

Greg Hansen: Monty masters McKale again

2013-02-11T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Monty masters McKale againGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

No visiting coach has lost more basketball games at McKale Center than Mike Montgomery. Not Don Haskins, not Ned Wulk, not Ralph Miller.

Nobody, living or dead.

Monty started his career 0-10 at McKale. He lost most of 'em big, too: 96-61 and 89-51 and 90-65.

He remembers those days, of course, each one stamped into a coach's recall, most of them absorbed while coaching Stanford to 12 NCAA tournaments. But as Monty was walking from Cal's locker room to do his radio show Sunday night, a 77-69 winner, he was reminded not that he has lost 16 games here, but, of all things, that he has won seven.

No visiting coach can match that one, either. Not Haskins (5), not Miller (5) not even Ben Howland (4) or any Sun Devils coach.

"I've been here more than anyone else," Montgomery said, unable to maintain a straight face after turning the UA defense inside out. "Hey, I've been here a long time."

Monty is 65 now, but he looks 55 and on Sunday his team must've made him feel 35. He remains the Wildcat Killer, winning at McKale in seven of his last 13 appearances - each one of them shaking the foundation of the McKale mystique.

He was so into Sunday's game that he knew, exactly, the math of his team's mid-game run that changed the complexion of Arizona's season.

"What did you think of that 15-2 run?" he was asked.

"It was 17-2 to be exact," he said.

Cal went from a 38-33 halftime deficit to a 50-40 lead, and Arizona cracked and eventually croaked.

"It was a heck of a win for us, on the road," he said. "We've been here five days."

But when you thump the nation's No. 7 team, it only seems like five hours.

Cal began this UA-ASU trip Wednesday as a non-contender, a non-item to be brutally honest. After opening the season 6-0 against Cupcakes-R-Us, the Bears lost nine of 16 and most people considered them to be nothing more than middle-of-the-pack fodder.

But on Sunday, the fodder became a force. Allen Crabbe played so well, scoring 31 points, that he reminded distressed McKale fans of another one of Monty's shooting guards, Dion Cross.

In 1996, while he was coaching Stanford, Montgomery sat on the McKale bench and watched as Cross swished seven consecutive three-pointers, scoring 27 points as the Cardinal dazzled No. 11 Arizona, 85-79. That game broke Montgomery's 0-for-forever streak in Tucson.

"I do remember it," Montgomery said Sunday. "Dion didn't miss a shot."

Sunday's game was a virtual reprise. Crabbe wasn't good, he was sensational. He made 12 of his 15 shots. It seemed like he made 16 of them. Arizona coach Sean Miler correctly said, "I'd guess that was Cal's best offensive performance of the year."

The Bears made 58.8 percent of their shots. Not only was it Cal's top percentage of the season, it was the first time since Dec. 22, against Harvard, that the Bears exceeded 50 percent.

On some nights, no matter what you do, the basketball gods aren't going to let you win. Sunday was one of those games. Crabbe was Dion Cross 17 years later. The Bears would've beat almost any UA team of the last 25 years.

For most of the season, Cal has been challenged defensively by opposing big men. ASU's Ruslan Pateev, for instance, had a 12-point, eight-rebound night against the Bears on Thursday. Washington's Aziz N'Diaye had a 12-12 double-double, and Stanford's Dwight Powell had a 17-9 stat line.

But Arizona couldn't match that, couldn't go inside with productivity, because Montgomery dusted off a zone defense that chopped up Arizona's offense and made it stand still. It's unclear whether it was a 1-2-2 or a 2-3 or a 2-1-1 zone. To the Wildcats, it must've looked like a 4-3-4.

"Arizona didn't execute great," said Montgomery. "We haven't been very good in (a zone), frankly. It's a matter of a game, and a circumstance, to see how it works. There's certainly a chance we would use it again."

One doesn't have to be a coach to surmise that the zone-challenged Wildcats are going to see a similar defense when it goes to Colorado and Utah this week.

"We took bad shots," said Miller. "We had a deer-in-the-headlights look against it."

The most disturbing pattern to Arizona's offense isn't that Montgomery out-schemed Miller with a zone, but that the Wildcats shot 39.3 percent. Arizona hasn't shot 50 percent afield since it played Oral Roberts about a million years ago. Since then it was under 40 percent against Washington, UCLA, Utah and San Diego State.

Maybe this isn't a mid-season slump. Maybe it's a good reflection on the shooting ability of this team.

Maybe every game is going to be a grind, home and road. That's the way much of the season has gone. If you're faint of heart, you might want to look away for the next six weeks.

"You've got to be able to take everybody's best punch and punch 'em back," said UA senior Solomon Hill.

But on Sunday, when the Bears punched, Arizona fell back and ultimately fell apart.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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