Let's get one thing straight. California did not lose this game. Washington won it. To be more precise, they took it from us and held onto it tight. They were the desperate team and it showed. They nailed every tough shot, hit all their free throws down the stretch, and made those extra special plays that usually happens when a team needs to get to the dance. To think this was the same team that Oregon State nearly had on the ropes two nights ago is a little bizarre, but it just goes to show how deep Washington was, and why they were predicted to finish 1st or 2nd in the Pac-10 by many people. They needed this one more than we did, and it showed. Kudos to them for being the second (and likely last) Pac-10 team to be going to March Madness.
To win a conference tournament like this doesn't just require strength or experience or talent. It requires depth, the ability to balance lineups and play 8, 9, 10 guys while limiting the rotations of everyone involved. And Washington has always had the deepest roster in the Pac-10. The Bears, despite being a more balanced lineup overall, had no one to spell Jerome Randle (Jorge Gutierrez came in but was ineffective at the point, Nikola Knezevic saw a few minutes and did not contribute except for the final steal) and our bulldog looked pretty ragged by the end of this. My biggest concern all season has not been clutchness or defense but fatigue, when the big minutes our seniors have logged all season came back to affect our games. They caught up with Randle and Patrick Christopher tonight, as both struggled with their shot (6-22 combined, 2-11 from three point land). Hopefully they recover in time for the tournament.
But while the Bears struggled with their shot (only, they never quit. When Washington took a 9 point lead early in the second half and looked ready to finish us off, Cal came roaring back to take a slim lead late. Theo Robertson played great ball (25 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) and did his best job bringing them back on that critical run. Jamal Boykin had an excellent all-around game, notching another double-double under his belt with 20 points and 14 boards. Unfortunately they were the only Bears who were on their game. Gutierrez for all his stalwart defensive efforts, went 0-5 from the field and did not play well on offense, and Omondi Amoke went 1-5, messing up a few crucial putbacks.
Although I never like to lose, I'm a little relieved that the Bears didn't go into the NCAA tournament riding a 7 game hot streak--I've seen too many teams go into the tourney hot and then get bounced in the first round. I might be less relieved if we end up in the dreaded 8/9 seed, but otherwise...well, better to lose this game than the next game. Or the next one, or the next one...
More updates coming. Just remember this: The Bears are still going dancing. It just becomes a matter of where and with who.