For California, Justin Cobbs May Be The Key To This Year’s SuccessPosted by mlemaire on December 20th, 2011
Mike Lemaire is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the California-UC Santa Barbara game last night.
Even after talented freshman guard Gary Franklin announced that he was transferring from California to Baylor last January, the Golden Bears were a popular pick to finish atop the Pac-12 standings this season thanks in a large part to their talented backcourt. They just might not have realized just how talented it really was — until last night.
Playing without senior leader, second-leading scorer, and best on-ball defender Jorge Gutierrez because of food poisoning, it looked like the Golden Bears would be in for a tightly contested game against an experienced and talented UC-Santa Barbara team. Instead, coach Mike Montgomery slid Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs into the starting lineup for just the fifth time this season and the 6-foot-2 sophomore dominated on both sides of the ball as California coasted past the Gauchos 70-50 in the Pete Newell Classic and showed off backcourt depth that should be the envy of the conference if not the country.
Cobbs was unbelievably efficient and accurate on offense, shooting 10-12 from the field and 3-3 from behind the three-point arc for a team-leading 25 points. And on the other end, Montgomery had expected to counter Gauchos’ star Orlando Johnson with Gutierrez, the team’s best defender. But with Gutierrez out, the task fell to Cobbs who proved he was more than up to the challenge despite the fact that Johnson is about three inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. Cobbs harassed Johnson into a 4-13 shooting performance and also made an impression on the gaggle of NBA scouts on hand, most of whom were there to see Johnson and Cobbs’ teammate Allen Crabbe.
“I will tell you what, he hasn’t quite figured it out yet, but he is learning and the talent is there,” one Eastern Conference scout and former Division I coach said. “The sooner he figures it out, the better off this team will be, because he is bigger and more athletic than [starting point guard Brandon] Smith. Don’t get me wrong, Smith is a good player, but Cobbs has a higher ceiling.”
It was easily Cobbs’ finest performance of the season, but the Los Angeles native has been a pleasant surprise all season long for the Golden Bears, who sit right behind Stanford in the Pac-12 standings at 10-2. Although he has been primarily coming off the bench, Cobbs’ play has forced Montgomery to give him nearly 28 minutes per game, and Cobbs has responded by averaging 12.0 PPG, leading the team in assists (4.4 APG), and taking good care of the ball (1.8 TOPG) all while shooting a ridiculous 63.6% from behind the three-point arc.
Coming out of high school, Cobbs was rated a three-star point guard and committed to Tubby Smith and the Golden Gophers almost as soon as he set foot on campus in Minneapolis. Smith hoped he would become a solid backup to then-starter Al Nolen, but Cobbs averaged just 2.1 points in 10.7 minutes per game with the Golden Gophers, and when news broke that he would likely transfer back to a California school because of homesickness, it surprised no one who had been covering the team all season and had watched him struggle to get comfortable.
News that Cobbs was transferring to California was met with a audible “ho-hum” from the school’s fans, but you can bet they are singing a different tune 12 games into the season. When Cobbs originally joined the Golden Gophers, he said his goal was to win a Big 10 Championship. Now it seems he has a realistic shot at achieving that goal, if only in a different conference, closer to home, and in his comfort zone.