BERKELEY — Justin Cobbs is regaining confidence in his jump shot and it earned him Pac-12 Player of the Week honors this week.
With the help of Cobbs’ buzzer beater on Thursday and his 18 points on Saturday, the Cal men’s basketball team knocked off Oregon and Oregon State on the road last week to move within striking distance of a Pac-12 conference title.
After winning seven of their last eight, the Bears (18-9, 10-5) are now trailing first-place Arizona (11-4) and Oregon (11-4) by a single game and Cobbs’ turnaround is a key part of the team’s recent success.
“He’s gotten better,” coach Mike Montgomery said. “He’s gotten to where he’s taking big shots.”
After opening the conference season by hitting only 12 of his first 40 shots, Cobbs shied away from his jumper, shooting only twice against Washington State on Jan. 12.
But Cobbs restored confidence in his shot by working out the kinks with assistant coach Theo Robertson. Cobbs said he hits the gym at 9 a.m. and then stays late after practice to get more reps in. The junior guard estimated that he takes roughly 1,500 shots a week.
“Once you shoot the same shot, it almost feels automatic,” Cobbs said. “You’re not thinking about it, you’re just shooting the same shots you shoot in the workouts.
Avoiding the trap: With three games left on the schedule, Cal can put itself in a good position to win the conference title by winning out.
The Bears hold tiebreakers over No. 11 Arizona and No. 24 Oregon, but they can’t look past 10th-place Utah (11-15, 3-11) at Haas Pavilion on Thursday.
“Utah is scary because they play everybody tough,” Montgomery said.
The Utes have lost two games to the first-place Wildcats by a combined seven points this season. Right now, they’re leading the conference in scoring defense (62.2 points per game) and field goal percentage defense (39.0).
“They play hard,” forward Robert Thurman said. “They know how to make the game ugly.”
Thurman said the Bears will need to practice hard this week, treating the Utes like legitimate threats.
“In the beginning of the season there were a few games where we kind of just walked in and thought we were just going to [win] and it ended up not looking so pretty,” he said. “Right now, I think we know how important these games are.”