VIDEO: Powers, Bak step up and open things up

Jeff Powers (USA Today Sports)

The only available options off the bench, Jeff Powers and Bak Bak deliver meaningful contributions in California's first conference win at USC on Saturday.



LOS ANGELES – Jeff Powers and Bak Bak aren't exactly The Expendables, but they come pretty darn close.

Pressed into service by injuries to Brandon Smith (concussion), Ricky Kreklow (foot), and Christian Behrens (knee), they were unlikely catalysts for California's first Pac-12 win at USC on Saturday night, but catalysts they were.

"That's what you have to have, and maybe that's on me," Cal head coach Mike Montgomery said of his unlikely contributors. "Maybe I just got to trust guys off the bench a little bit more."

Powers came in and hit a three-pointer with 7:59 left in the first half, the team's first successful shot from behind the arc in its last 23 attempts. Cal did not make a three in losses to Harvard and UCLA, but Powers' shot came with a palpable exhale.

"After Jeff knocked down that first one, it definitely gave us some confidence," guard Allen Crabbe said.

Powers made another later in the half, finishing with a modest stat line – six points, one rebound in eight minutes – but earned plenty of compliments from Montgomery.

"I'm really proud of Jeff," Montgomery said. "He was the only sub I had on the perimeter."

By hitting those threes and creating an environment where teammates could be equally confident to shoot, Cal finished 5-of-8 from long range. That set the stage for a spectacular second-half performance from Crabbe, forcing defenders to respect the wing.

The junior - backed by a boisterous hometown cheering section - made 7-of-8 shots from the field and was 6-of-6 from the free throw line for 19 points. At one point, he scored 11 straight.

"He let the game come to him," freshman guard Tyrone Wallace said. "We did some things to get him looks down low in the post and ran him off ball screens. Al's just a great player, and he made some great shots, tough shots."

Crabbe finished with a game-high 27 points, adding four assists and three rebounds.

"I'm just being aggressive," said Crabbe, whose thunderous dunk with 18 seconds to go served as the exclamation point. "My teammates are finding me. They're setting me up and getting me in the spots that I wanted.

"I'm just knocking them down."

The same apparently goes for Bak. The lanky fan favorite provided seven crucial minutes in the first half, as Cal dealt with some foul trouble. He knocked down a nice midrange jumper late, something Crabbe expected.

"He does it in practice," Crabbe said without a hint of irony. "We're confident in Bak's shot."

Bak also added his fourth career assist, one in each of his four seasons at Cal, finding Powers for that second three after a scramble for a loose ball.

"That's what we need, everybody to come in and help," Wallace said.

It was a stark contrast from Thursday's conference opener at UCLA, when Crabbe delivered another strong performance, but the bench offered only eight points and six rebounds.

At Galen Center, the reserves came through with 10 points and 11 boards. Modest totals, yes, but enough to open things up for Crabbe.

"It definitely feels good," Crabbe said, "We know what our teammates are capable of. We go against them in practice all the time. It just feels like they need time to get a chance to get their confidence up. We got a good contribution from everybody tonight.

"There is opportunity, and they are taking advantage of it."

Dan Greenspan writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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