(First thing's first: As originally predicted by Doctor Me, Jorge has a sprained knee and his status is uncertain for next week. Can I pick up my MD now?)
Word to the wise: If Max Zhang is the difference-maker on the other team, your team probably isn't winning tonight.
Cal took over the first half as soon as Zhang entered the game, who made life difficult for Landry Fields with two "did I just see that?" blocks, and the Cardinal just had no one to block him out down low on his way to 13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks...and almost all of it in meaningful playing time. If you would've told me we'd get those sort of numbers from Zhang in any Pac-10 game, I'd have made out with Oski on the parquet.
Some of the offensive production was due to Randle finding him (and we'll get to his generalship after the jump), but a substantial amount came from Max's increasingly assertive nature on the offensive end. Zhang flat-out sought that ball on several occasions for putbacks. And yes, it doesn't hurt that no one on the Furd tops 6'10".
But it was on defense where Zhang made the most impact, his length bothering the Cardinal on several possessions, including the blocks, but also forcing tougher shots by Furd's slashers attacking the basket. Whether that forced the Cardinal to shoot more jump shots anyone can conjecture, but no one on the Furd really had an easy look at the basket with Max patrolling the lane.
Yeah, he still has no discernible post game, but we have two more years to get that straightened out. Baby steps.
More lingering thoughts...
- Zhang might've been the fan fave, but there was no doubting who played maestro. Jerome Randle was master of the court tonight. He threw passes into traffic and hit most of them early on, rained 3s over hapless Drew Shiller...and all of this was before he seemed to invoke mercy early in the second half and hit the brakes. Court vision, ball-handling, triples...all of Randle's talents were on display Saturday night at Haas. 24 points and 7 assists barely register the impact Randle had leading the charge in the first half.
- It didn't hurt for the Bears to get a terrible shooting performance from Fields, who needed 24 field goal and 8 free throw attempts to notch a mere twenty points. Kudos to Monty for rotating multiple defenders onto the versatile guard, which seemed to help throw his game off. Expect to face a very different and motivated Fields in Maples; hopefully we can employ a similar style of defense to take him off his game in the finale.
- Passing was great, much thanks to Randle and Theo (who chipped in 4 assists). A lot of those passes ended up as free throw shots, which is why we only ended up with a modest 16 dimes in all.
- What really impressed me was how the Bears continued to attack the basket instead of settling for 3s. Other than Randle's early triples, with Robertson, Amoke and Christopher all trying to attack the inside along with MSF, Boykin and Max. You can see it with a more efficient shooting effort (hovering around 60 percent) and with 28 free throw attempts.
- That being said, Cal needs to continue that strategy against teams with better zone principles. The Cardinal put up a zone once against the Bears in the first half; it ended with Nikola banking in a 3 with the shot clock expiring. For some reason the Furd never went back to it. Still, smart teams will zone up the Bears until they show they can break it.
- Speaking of home-cooking, this deserves a caption contest of some sort.
- Comment of the night from LeonPowe: "Was at the game. The Zhang Movement was in full effect. Jerome – it looked like he was toying with whomever Furd threw at him – like he was trying out new dribble moves on the defender. I think he could’ve scored anytime he wanted, but he was content to set up Amoke, Max Boykin Theo and PChris. Crowd was somewhat loud, but not really needed, if it had been a tight game, the crowd couldve swung it our favor. I hate that Tree."
- From a basketball standpoint, we shouldn't go too crazy about this win, because hey, the Furd were projected to finish last in the conference, and Pomeroy projected an 89-68 win...but it's promising that it only took a half to get it up to that margin, and Cal snailed the pace in the second half and still hit 90. These Bears are playing very well, but still need the depth to pull through. They'll need Jorge on the floor against stiffer foes.
Onto the LA schools, starting with what should be a desperate, determined UCLA squad this Wednesday night. Keep the ball moving.