Washington meets Pac-12's leading scorer days after successfully defending WSU's Brock Motum
In many basketball circles, Kevin O’Neill is considered one of the best in the business when it comes to devising a defensive game plan.
And yet, the USC coach had no answer for Allen Crabbe, who torched the Trojans for 27 points last Saturday in Los Angeles.
At one point, California’s junior guard scored 11 consecutive points in the second half to lead the Golden Bears to a 72-64 victory.
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“We tried some different things and none of them worked,” O’Neill said. “If you let down at all, he can score in so many ways. He scores on cuts. He’s live off the ball.
“He’s really become good at putting it down on the floor. He makes you pay if you help out with your bigs because he’s become such a good passer. I can’t say enough good things about the kid. I think he’s really good.”
Washington will discover just how good Crabbe and Cal (9-5, 1-1 Pac-12) might be at 8 p.m. Wednesday when the Huskies (9-5, 1-0) make their first visit to Haas Pavilion in nearly two years.
Due to the Pac-12’s unbalanced schedule, Washington missed the Bay Area trip last year while the Golden Bears made the journey to the Northwest to face UW in their only meeting last season.
The Huskies held Crabbe to 16 points, but they lost the game 69-66.
Back then, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound guard was primarily a spot-up shooter who averaged 15.2 points and was voted to the all-conference team.
This season, Crabbe leads the Pac-12 with a 21.4 scoring average that ranks 10th nationally. His 33-point performance in a 79-62 victory over Pepperdine in November is his personal best.
So why has Crabbe improved so much?
“He doesn’t settle for the three, that’s the No. 1 thing,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “He comes off curls and comes off screens attacking. He’s not just … going out shooting 8-9 three-pointers each game.
“He’s coming at you and I think it reflects in the statistics with him going to the foul line more. That’s the big difference with Allen.”
Crabbe improved his field-goal shooting percentage from 43.1 percent last year to 49.8 percent this season. He’s second in the conference with 77 free throw attempts through 14 games and shoots 87 percent at the line. Last season, he attempted 89 foul shots in 34 games.
“You could see his sophomore year, he began to attack the basket a little more,” Romar said. “But this year, at times he’s like a slasher as opposed to just a shooter. … It makes him even tougher to guard. He’s more durable now. He’s stronger.
“I know sometimes guys used to bounce him. Make contact with him. I’ve watched him on television and he bounces right back up and plays through the contact now,” Romar said.
Cal coach Mike Montgomery said Crabbe, the 2011 Pac-12 freshman of the year, has made a natural progression while developing into one of the league’s stars.
“He had a great summer,” Montgomery said. “He stuck around. He lifted. He admitted afterward, he probably would have liked to have gone home … but he stayed and worked out with people in the weight room and later on commented it was the best thing he every did.”
Crabbe and junior point guard Justin Cobbs (15.6 points a game) are the highest scoring tandem in the Pac-12. They’ve combined to score 518 of Cal’s 995 points (52.1 percent) and connected on 181 of the Bears’ 367 field goals this season.
The imbalance makes Montgomery nervous.
“At times we’ve relied on him too much,” he said about Crabbe. “We have to trust other people to get it done.”
Crabbe has led Cal in scoring in 10 of 14 games. He’s scored in double-digits in 20 consecutive games, which also leads the Pac-12.
Next on the list is Washington State’s Brock Motum with 14.
Thanks to a marvelous defensive effort from sophomore forward Desmond Simmons, the Huskies held Motum — the Pac-12’s third-leading scorer — in check last weekend in a conference-opening 68-63 victory in Pullman.
Romar said Crabbe and Motum are “entirely different players,” suggesting the defensive game plan will be different for the Golden Bears.
Still Simmons, the Vallejo, Calif., product who returns home for the first time as a Husky, said there’s a lesson to be learned from Washington’s last outing.
“Just keep building on our defense,” he said. “We learned we can win with defense.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @percyallen.