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January 13, 2012
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BERKELEY -- California head coach < b>Mike Montgomery has known Utah skipper Larry Krystkowiak for more than 20 years. The last time the two were competing on the same court, Montgomery was a young up-and-comer in the coaching profession, guiding Montana to an average of 19 wins per year and two NIT selections from 1978 to 1986.
Krystkowiak was a three-time Big Sky MVP and a two-time Academic All-American from 1982-86, and was the 28th overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Now, the two will meet again this weekend for the first time as Pac-12 coaches.
"Oh, we've got lots of stories about Krystko," Montgomery said of his former charge at the Pac-12 Men's Basketball Media Day in Los Angeles. "He's one of my favorites. Larry was a guy out of little Shelby, Montana that nobody much knew about. It was kind of a local recruiting deal. But we felt like us he was a guy we had to have and we were fortunate enough to get him.
"We had four great years with Larry. He just got better and better. He's one of those guys that has to go on your all-time favorite list. It's about how bad he wanted it, what he put into it. It's been great to watch him grow up. A great NBA career, having an opportunity to coach in the NBA, we'd chuckle about some of our common experiences there. He did a great job as a head coach at Montana, and I think he'll do the same thing at Utah. He has a way with kids. He's very level-headed and has a way of explaining things that they get without being too heavy handed. And his experience, obviously, speaks for itself. So I'm excited to see Larry at Utah, and happy to have him in the league."
At Montgomery's weekly press conference on Wednesday in Haas Pavilion, Montgomery spoke again of seeing his former player in a suit and tie, instead of sneakers and shorts.
"Larry's a good friend," Montgomery said. "A long, long time ago, his senior year, he ended up getting drafted and getting in the NBA, and I got the Stanford job, and we kind of shook each other's hand and said, 'This think kind of worked for both of us, didn't it?' and kind of laughed. He's a really good guy. I like Larry a lot. Quality human being. He played like his life depended on it. He was very, very tough. He's a tremendous competitor. He was a load inside, trust me."
If that description sounds familiar, it's because Montgomery has another pupil that fits the same mold: Jorge Gutierrez.
The senior guard out of Chihuaua, Mexico, is seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring (14.3), sixth in assists (4.18), eighth in free-throw percentage (79.4), 10th in steals (1.35), eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.82) and 10th in defensive rebounds (4.53). After a 2-for-17 shooting performance against Colorado on Thursday, though, the fiery Gutierrez will likely be looking for some measure of redemption on both ends of the court.
While Gutierrez has been the bane of some of the nation's top scorers, he won't have a big match-up when it comes to the Utes (4-12, 1-3 Pac-12). Utah ranks 11th in the league in scoring offense (57.4), rebounding offense (29.8.3), assists (10.81), turnover margin (-2.62), shooting percentage (41.4) and field goal percentage (40.8), last in three-point percentage (28.4), field goal defense (47.4), three-point field goal percentage defense (41.2), steals (4.63), scoring margin (-14.1) and offensive rebounds (8.50). The Utes are 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (71.5), free-throw percentage (64.8).
"There's only so many things you can do. 35-second clock, 94 by 50, you've got to get it to a spot. You're a little more familiar with some people than others, but you've got two or three days to figure it out," Montgomery said of playing his former pupil for the first time. "He's tough. He wants his kids to compete and play hard, be physical. That would be where he would come from, the side he would come from."
After Thursday's win over the Buffaloes, the Bears are tied atop the conference standings with rival Stanford, and, thanks to Gutierrez, are the second-best squad in the league in scoring defense (59.8 ppg), first in scoring margin (+12.1), second in rebounding defense (allowing 30.2 rpg), second in assists (16.11 apg), first in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.36) and first in defensive rebound percentage (72.5 percent).
Bolstered by three players averaging in double figures -- Justin Cobbs (12.8), Gutierrez (14.3) and Allen Crabbe (16.1, third in the conference) -- the Bears are fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring (71.9 ppg). At the line, Cal leads the conference in free-throw percentage (73.4), led by Cobbs' 80.5 mark. Though the Bears are seventh in offensive rebounds, true freshman David Kravish has made a big impression on the boards and ranks 17th in total rebounding (5.8) -- behind Crabbe's 15th-best 6.0 -- and 13th in offensive boards, averaging 2.22 per game.
"I didn't think I would get as much playing time as I have, but that is one of those things where you've just got to go out and prove yourself. You have to play hard and give everything you've got, every minute you're on the court, and see what happens," Kravish said. "One of the interesting things -- and I think it was my dad who pointed this out -- high school games are 32 minutes long, and I've played 33 minutes a couple of times. I don't think I ever played a whole high school game. I always came out at some point, so that's just interesting to think about how so much is different."
Kravish is the sixth-best shot-blocker in the Pac-12, tallying an average of 1.33 swats per contest, accounting for 24 of the Bears' 58 this season. Much of Kravish's development has been due to coach-on-the-floor Harper Kamp.
The senior power forward has taken a back seat in scoring -- his scoring average has dropped from 14.2 in 2010-11 to 9.1 this season -- but he's been indispensible in a leadership role.
"I think we're probably using him in a different position, a different situation, than we did a year ago," Montgomery said. "He's had the ball a lot more with his back to the basket in the low post, which is probably not what he's best at. Last year, we had Markhuri [Sanders-Frison] who we kind of used down there, and had Harper away from the basket a little bit more. I also think that, with Brandon [Smith] at the point, last year -- who was really a non-scorer, not a guy looking to score -- that Harper had the ball and had more. Now, with Justin scoring and Allen scoring, I think probably his role has changed a little bit. But, having said that, his value to the team can't be measured in anything statistically."
What Kamp has done is be as dependable as Kravish's arms are long, sinking 70.8 percent of his free throws, averaging 5.1 boards per game (he recorded 5.6 per game last season) and shooting 53.7 percent from the field -- an improvement from his 52.8-percent clip a season ago -- while playing 5.3 fewer minutes.
"[He provides] leadership. He takes two charges late, he's - defensively -- I can count on him to -- I don't have to really explain anything to Harper, in terms of, 'You've got this guy; he does this,' and he nods his head, and that's pretty much that," Montgomery said. "That's invaluable to have guys who can do that. He's the guy who understands what's going on and what needs to be done; that's really important."
"[He's] probably not [fine with the role], but he's such a team guy and such a quality guy. Everybody wants to be the leading scorer, and he wants to have a bigger role. He was upset after the Oregon game, feeling like he didn't play very well," Montgomery said. "Now, probably our responsibility is to get him more involved, but at the same time, rebounding-wise, that's something he can do on his own. He knows that."
Kamp has also been a patient and attentive teacher, helping the lanky Missourian Kravish acclimate to the college game.
"Harper is probably the smartest player I've ever played with," Kravish said. "Having him on the court, it's like he's always there to pick up one of my mistakes or something, because I can't count the number of times I've gotten beaten or the guy's got a move on me, and Harper will come up and there'll be a charge, so the basket doesn't count. Or, Harper will come over and help and the guy will have to pass it out. Just, little things like that, he's just always doing the right thing and always helping out the rest of the team. He just keeps it flowing. Coach said he's the brains of the operation, so he's always got the thing moving, and it's really, really valuable having him on the court.
"It's really nice having Harper on the team. He's always there. Like I've said before: he's always there, he's always willing to listen, to help me out, no matter if I've got a problem on the court, if I don't know the play or if I'm not doing something right on defense. He's always willing to tell me what I'm doing wrong, and tell me how to do it correctly. It's really nice having him out there, because he's so experienced."