Justin Cobbs, E.J. Singler

NCAA tournament berth, Pac-12 regular season crown well within California’s reach (VIDEO)

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Just over a month ago California dropped a 69-59 decision at rival Stanford, falling to 2-3 in Pac-12 play and not looking anything like an NCAA tournament team.

Mike Montgomery’s Golden Bears have gone 7-2 since that loss, which includes their current streak of six wins in their last seven games, and at this rate Cal has to be considered a serious challenger for the Pac-12 title with just over two weeks remaining in the regular season.

Justin Cobbs was the hero on Thursday, as his contested jumper with seven tenths of a second remaining gave Cal a 48-46 win at Oregon and moved the Golden Bears to within a game of the Ducks and Arizona in the conference standings.

In Cobbs and Allen Crabbe the Golden Bears have one of the better perimeter scoring tandems that you’ll find in college basketball, but just as important to California’s improved play of late has been their work on the defensive end.

Oregon shot just 27.6% from the field against the Golden Bears, and the absence of freshman point guard Dominic Artis isn’t the only reason why the Ducks ran into trouble offensively. Oregon entered Thursday’s game second in the conference in field goal percentage (league games only), and Cal was able to hold them nearly 17 percentage points below their mark for the year (44.3%).

Also of note is the improved play of junior forward Richard Solomon, who accounted for eight points and 11 rebounds in Eugene. In the last seven games Solomon is averaging 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest, and even though those numbers are slightly above his season averages (8.6 and 6.5) Solomon has been more consistent during this current stretch.

Since their loss in Palo Alto California has swept Oregon and also has a win over Arizona, which gives them the tiebreaker over both teams should they wind up tied atop the Pac-12 standings.

With three of their final four games in Berkeley the Golden Bears are in good position to earn a ticket to the NCAA tournament, but why not be “greedy?” The Pac-12 title is there for the taking, and in recent weeks Cal has shown themselves capable of winning it.

Video credit: ESPN

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
Associated Press
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets
Associated Press
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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.