Harris: When push came to shove, coach failed

| Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

California coach Mike Montgomery won the game, but he lost something far more valuable, at least for a few stress-filled days: his good name.

Montgomery shoved his best player, junior Allen Crabbe, in an attempt to motivate him late in the second half against USC.

The ploy apparently worked. But the backlash has been extreme for Montgomery.

Crabbe, the Pac-12 scoring leader who left the game for a couple of minutes to compose himself, scored 14 of his 23 points down the stretch to spark Cal's 76-68 victory Feb. 17.

Afterward, Montgomery told reporters about his shove of Crabbe, “It worked, didn't it?”

Two days later — following reprimands from Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour and his own initial apology — Montgomery became his harshest critic.

“To try to mitigate or find an excuse or reason why something like that might happen doesn't work right now,” Montgomery said during his weekly conference call. “I got a little bit excited in a tough situation, and it's come back to haunt me.”

Montgomery also had to make things right with Crabbe and his father, who played basketball at Pepperdine.

“I don't think anybody feels threatened — we're in this together,” Montgomery said. “There's a lot of stuff there for young people to look at and learn.

“For me, it's a matter of knowing that as much as I try to win and get this team moving forward, I've got certain things that you just can't do.”

Huggins reflects

It's been a tough year for coach Bob Huggins in West Virginia's first season in the Big 12 — made tougher by two losses to Kansas State, where Huggins coached during the 2006-07 campaign.

Huggins credits Kansas State for reviving his career. A DUI arrest in 2004 ultimately led to Huggins' dismissal from Cincinnati following the 2004-05 season.

Kansas State finished 23-12 under Huggins for the school's most wins since 1987-88 and advanced to the NIT. Huggins left the following year for WVU, his alma mater.

Prior to WVU's 71-61 road loss, Huggins received a standing ovation from appreciative Kansas State fans.

“I said 1,000 times I would have never left Kansas State other than to come back home to West Virginia,” Huggins said. “What (Kansas State) did was give me faith and trust again in people.”

Gonzaga's Big 12 sweep

Gonzaga coach Mark Few has won 11 West Coast Conference titles in 14 seasons and made four trips to the Sweet 16, enhancing his status among the most underrated coaches in major college basketball.

Ranked No. 3 in the country, Gonzaga's highlights this season include signature wins over Big 12 opponents Kansas State (68-52), Oklahoma (72-47), West Virginia (84-50), Baylor (94-87) and Oklahoma State (69-68).

“We went 5-0 in the Big 12 this year. For a while, we were the leaders in the clubhouse in the Big 12,” joked Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth.

Around the country

Entering last week's games, the top six teams in the Big 12 were separated by a total of two games — making for the closest race in league history. ... Recent Penn State losses against Iowa (74-72) and at Michigan (79-71) were its first back-to-back games of scoring 70 points in the Big Ten since 2006. ... Tennessee's Jordan McRae scored a career-high 34 points in a win over LSU, the most points for a Volunteer in an SEC game since 2001.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.

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