Montgomery, Cal hope to continue program momentum


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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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

The defensive performance on display by the Baltimore Ravens Sunday against the Tennessee Titans in a 21-0 shutout win was flat out historic. So historic that it's earned linebacker Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

A franchise-record 11 sacks were laid on quarterback Marcus Mariota during the Week 6 matchup, with Smith leading the way with three of them.   

So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. As someone who is in the final year of his rookie NFL contract, he's certainly proving he is worthy of getting paid this offseason. 

"It feels great, man. It's big," Smith said of the honor during media availability Wednesday. "I know when I first found out I called my mom and she was already looking at it. But I called her and she was trying to congratulate me and was like 'who would've ever thought the guy that played one year of high school football would be where he at now and making so many goals.'"

But earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week isn't the only goal Smith has in mind. His performance through the first six weeks and assisting the No. 1 ranked scoring defense is just a stepping stone to the ultimate honor.

"I was telling her, 'Ma you know this is a good self-goal but my main goal is to get us to the Super Bowl.'" 

The road to the Super Bowl for Smith and the Ravens continues this Sunday vs. Drew Brees and the Saints. 


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4 things to watch as the Caps host the Rangers

USA Today

4 things to watch as the Caps host the Rangers

The Caps return to action Wednesday as they host the New York Rangers (7 p.m., NBCSN) in a Metropolitan Division clash.

Here are four things you should be watching for in this game.

The schedule finally gives the Caps a break

The early season schedule for Washington has been bizarre to say the least. Finally, they will be catching a break on Wednesday as the Rangers will be playing in the second leg of a back-to-back.

That certainly does not guarantee a victory, but it is something the Caps are very aware of and they hope to take advantage.

“I think speed is a big part of the game and for them to be fatigued off the back-to-back is definitely going to help us whether we move the puck a little quicker than we would in other games just kind of knowing they are coming off that back-to-back,” Nathan Walker said.

“We've got to make them skate, we've got to make their D go back for pucks,” T.J. Oshie said. “I don't feel like they're going to look tired at the start of the game, usually that comes towards the end of the game, second half, and so you've got to work to drain them down a little bit and we've got to take advantage of that opportunity tonight.”

Top-line Stephenson

Stephenson was added to the top line on Saturday with no practice other than the morning skate that day. A few days between games has given him a chance to practice with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov and it should pay dividends on Wednesday.

This game also should be a good opportunity for Stephenson who was added to the top for his speed. Playing a tired Rangers team is something he will need to take advantage of.

“It's always tough to play back-to-back and with the travel and stuff like that,” Stephenson said. “For the most part, I think that that's going to be important and just to play a full 60, that's something that we want to get consistent with and we haven't been so far … But for the most part, I think the start will really help us tonight.”

Nathan Walker returns

The Caps made a change to the lineup for Wednesday’s game as Nathan Walker will be in for Dmitrij Jaskin on the fourth line.

When asked why he made the change, Reirden said, “Just a different look. A team that's on a back-to-back, we wanted to really come at them with some speed, tenacity and intensity that we know we always get from Nathan so thought it was a good add into tonight's lineup.

The Caps have got to get more offense from their bottom six and adding the speedy Walker to the bottom six could provide a boost. He has had trouble playing within the system in the past and his play has been more frenzied than controlled at times, but with Tom Wilson still suspended, there’s definitely an opportunity for Walker to earn more playing time depending on how he plays Wednesday.

King Henry remains on his throne

In addition to a tired Rangers team, the Caps are also expected to face a tired goalie.

Henrik Lundqvist started New York’s game on Tuesday and is expected to start again on Wednesday against Washington. That is not confirmed as the Rangers did not have a morning skate because of the back-to-back, but it is believed Lundqvist will play again.

There was a time when Lundqvist was considered the best netminder in the NHL and he is off to a phenomenal start this season with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage in five games thus far.

But how will the 36-year-old goalie handle a back-to-back?