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Montgomery, Cal hope to continue program momentum

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Montgomery, Cal hope to continue program momentum

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) Mike Montgomery and his California players consider last season an opportunity missed. The Golden Bears believe they should have won the inaugural Pac-12 regular-season title - and instead wound up in a tie for second.

With first-team all-conference guard Allen Crabbe leading a deep roster featuring three returning starters, Cal is determined to chase the championship this time around.

It will take playing more as a team to accomplish that, something Crabbe believes the Bears struggled with down the stretch.

Cal went 24-10 last season to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, losing in the first round 65-54 to South Florida in a most frustrating fashion.

``Unfortunately, we didn't win it the way we were supposed to,'' Crabbe said of the Pac-12. ``One of our main goals was to win the conference. It was a really good feeling almost doubling our wins from my freshman season. I just feel like we all expected that, we knew how good we were as a team. It wasn't good team play toward the end of the season. That cost us winning the Pac-12 like we should have.''

Montgomery, who begins his fifth season at Cal having taken his team to the NCAA tournament three times, would agree. The way he put it to his players: They didn't always trust each other to do the right thing. That, he said, kept the Bears from making the extra pass when needed, from staying on the same page with the game on the line.

``There was a little bit of, guys not confident in one another, not trusting one another toward the end,'' Montgomery said. ``As a result of that I think there came some fatigue, physically and mentally. We in some ways really overachieved until the end, and then underachieved. You could just see that it wasn't the same team it was earlier in the year when we were fighting for everything.''

Now, they're starting fresh - building this season around the catch phrase ``Berkeley Represent.''

No explanation necessary: win that conference championship.

It will be up to Crabbe, fellow junior guard Justin Cobbs and Co. to make that happen. Big man David Kravish also returns for a versatile and deep front court that allows Montgomery to mix and match. The coach is happy with the offseason strides made by forwards Bak Bak and Robert Thurman, while the guards are short-handed in practice with Ricky Kreklow working his way back from foot surgery that likely will keep him out until late November or early December. He sat out last season after transferring from Missouri.

Everybody is eager for the full roster to be together. Cobbs figures Cal might have more talent now.

``We've got to keep pushing and not focus on what happened last year,'' Cobbs said. ``We have a great opportunity this year to maybe win it. That always fuels you, being that close, and now we know what it takes to get there.''

Gone is Pac-12 player of the year Jorge Gutierrez, along with Harper Kamp.

Crabbe knows he will have to pick up even more of the load now. He led the Bears in scoring with 15.2 points per game last season, and also was Cal's leading rebounder with a 5.7 average and blocked 20 shots.

Montgomery is counting on Crabbe accepting a greater leadership role, and speaking up when necessary even though it's not in his nature to do so. Coming from Crabbe, Montgomery knows his team will listen.

``Team dynamics are really important, and it's hard to get kids to understand the intangibles,'' Montgomery said. ``There's a lot to be said for people who want to play for one another. You always talk about it, you always emphasize it, and you hope to get a group of kids who feel that way. That's something we've got to work on. But it takes leadership, and Allen, for one, has to be in the middle of that leadership.''

This summer, Montgomery agreed to a two-year contract extension through the 2015-16 season. The reward came after Montgomery revealed before last season that he had bladder cancer and surgery that left him cancer-free. He insists he is healthy and ready to go again.

He hopes to keep Cal a contender atop the conference. The Bears captured their first championship in 50 years when they won the Pac-10 in 2010.

Second-seeded Cal fell 70-59 to eventual champion Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals last season but still earned the program's third NCAA tournament berth of Montgomery's four-year tenure.

``I think we're projected third or fourth,'' Crabbe said. ``It just makes you hungry. It just makes you want to come out there and prove people wrong. We have enough talent. The only thing we really need to do is learn how to play together.''

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

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USA TODAY Sports

3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

The Caps could not shake Buffalo for two periods, but a dominant finish on Saturday helped them pull away for a 5-1 win. Here's how they finally put away the Sabres.​

A quick start

Strong stars go a long way towards helping a team in the middle of a slump. It's a confidence boost for a team in desperate need of one and the Caps got that boost on Saturday from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov used his wheels to zip in behind the defense and score just 50 seconds into the game. Washington led 1-0 at the end of the first, just the second time in 19 games they have held a lead after the first.

Andre Burakovsky snapping second period slump

It looked in the second period like the Caps were caught trying to protect the lead again, but Andre Burakovsky woke the team back up with his incredible highlight end-to-end goal. It really looked like Buffalo was going to tie the game at one, but instead, Burakovsky extended the lead to two. Going end to end the way he did shows a player who is starting to play with some confidence, something Burakovsky has lacked at points this season.

Ovechkin's two-goal third period

Buffalo just would not go away. Sam Reinhart got the Sabres on the board just 14 seconds into the third period and suddenly the Caps found themselves in a one-goal game again. But Ovechkin ended any hopes for the comeback as he struck in the top corner of the net on the power play form the office. He would later add a deflection goal late to extend the lead to 5-1, giving a scuffling Washington team the dominant win they so sorely needed.

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3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

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USA TODAY Sports

3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

The Capitals needed a win in the worst way and they got one, dispatching the Buffalo Sabres in dominating fashion with a 5-1 win.

Washington was locked in a tight game leading 2-0 heading into the third period when Sam Reinhart scored just 14 seconds into the period. The Caps then slammed the door shut, scoring three unanswered goals to put away the Sabres.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Alex Ovechkin: This was career game No. 893 for Ovechkin, tying him for the franchise record for most games played with Calle Johansson. Ovechkin very fittingly celebrated the occasion with two goals. The first was a power play goal from the office. No need for a one-timer on this one, as the Sabres gave him all the time he needed to aim up the shot and wrist it into the top corner. He added a late 

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov: To say the Caps have struggled at the start of games would be an understatement. In the last 18 games, Washington has held the lead after the first period only once. Kuznetsov made sure this game started off on the right foot as he scored just 50 seconds into the game. He turned on the jets in the neutral zone to turn the edge on Jason Pominville then easily skated around a weak, ill-advised challenge from Robin Lehner before flinging the puck into the yawning net. It was the fastest goal to start a game by the Caps this season. It was just the start of what would be a four-point night for the Caps' center as he added three assists.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky had the highlight of the game with his end-to-end goal in the second period to put Washington up 2-0. He looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he launched himself from the defensive zone, streaked down the center of the ice and in on net to slide the puck through the Lehner's five-hole. Look how Burakovsky was able to slice through the Sabres' defense. Buffalo had him surrounded, but could not slow him down at all.