For the first time in quite a while, I think we all felt good about the Cal team. After several games with a floundering offense and inconsistent defense, it was nice to go down to the desert and put forth two noteworthy efforts. Despite seemingly one-sided whistles, we were a missed or made shot away from a previously inconceivable desert sweep. To do so in turmoil spawned from an unexpected and still mind-boggling defection (Franklin's transfer) speaks highly of the team's character and Monty's leadership.
But this is the Pac-10. No mercy. Night in and night out, the second you start feeling good about yourself, someone is ready to knock you down a peg or two. And into town rode the dangerous Wazzu Cougars. Similar to last year when we could count on Randle/Theo/PC to light it up from everywhere, WSU featured their own Big Three of Klay Thompson, Reggie Moore, and Faisal Aden. As their poor man's Boykin, they also had defense specialist and shot-blocker DeAngelo Casto as their imposing big. Even with home-cookin', would the young Bears be able to slow their formidable perimeter game?
I was really curious to see what type of defense the Bears would start with against the Cougars. Although Monty likes a hard-nosed man to man, he's been using a lot of zone lately. It really seemed to frustrate both of the Arizona schools. However, Wazzu's trio of deadly outside shooters seems tailor-made to counter a zone. I was worried about Casto shutting down our low post game w/ his length/shotblocking, but in an interesting twist, the Cougars decided to go with offense and started upcoming talent Brock Modum at center.
Well, the Bears started man to man...The Cougs forced two TO's to start while hitting two long jumpers of their own. Doh. 5-0 in a hiccup.
But despite the rough start, the Bears showed resilience. A nifty reverse by Brandon Smith is followed by a Jorge 3. Great D forces a shot clock violation which leads to a Harper Kamp layup. The energy and effort were apparent from the start.
Perhaps learning from the furd game, Monty decided not to mess around and started Jorge on Klay. Mixed results early. Klay nailed a 3 off a fortuitous bounce and showed off an unguardable new floater off the dribble.
Cal started w/ their bread and butter high/low game, but Wazzu's counter was to double the post aggressively whenever we could work it inside. Like the ASU game, we were able to pound the offensive glass early for 2nd chance points.
And then the flood gates opened. Frustrated by Cal's tight man D, the Cougars missed consecutive jumpers that turned into quick transition buckets by the Bears. Fast break w/ a dish to a trailing Kamp for a deep jumper...Then Murray w;/ the steal and outlet to Crabbe for the dunk. And then Crabbe shows newfound confidence w/ a drive and floater. Boom. 10-1 run and 19-11 Cal!
Reminiscent of our perimeter-dependent team last year, Wazzu put on a poignant reminder of how you can live and die by the outside shot. And Old Blues everywhere knew that as quickly as they shot themselves out, they could just as easily shoot themselves back in.
But the young Bears hung tough. Murray got early minutes and rewarded Monty's confidence by forcing Thompson to dribble it off his leg. Solomon exhibited his customary activity with an assertive board/putback and then showed off a nice baseline drive. Crabbe continued his hot shooting streak with four 3's.
Wazzu was stubborn early w/ their strategy of automatically doubling the post. But Crabbe made them pay from deep, and Kamp hit a number of long jumpers from the high post. Later in the half, they started playing straight up. The impressive thing is that the Bears quickly recognized the change and started working it inside for layups.
The Cougars tried to keep it close w/ steals that led to transition buckets, and their wayward jumpers finally started to fall.
Markhuri Sanders-Frison had a quiet 1st half. He picked up two offensive fouls and was mostly shutdown by either their double teams, or Casto's length. Not sure if his injuries continued to bother him, but he looked like he was pressing a bit.
It really helped Cal that Wazzu liked to push it and shoot it so quickly. It's a feast or famine strategy. When they're falling, it's like getting hit by a hurricane. But when they're not...well, it helps an offensively-challenged Cal team battle to a 42-32 halftime lead.
The Good: Young guys continued to show growth and confidence. Crabbe just keeps getting better and better. Besides just being a 3-pt shooter, it's awesome to see him showing the ability to put it on the floor and shoot it off the dribble. Emerson Murray earned early minutes and used his athleticism to make an impact on defense. Solomon made a difference with his energy. Great effort on D and much improved execution on offense.
The Bad: WSU had plenty of open shots...they just didn't fall. It's worrisome to rely on 60+% shooting, especially from the perimeter. That's not something that will be there every night.
The Ugly: Turnovers continue to be an issue. Without some easy steals that lead to breakaways, we could have been leading decisively at the half.
Chess match time. Sound thinking by Wazzu to try to negate our strength by doubling the post. But it was rendered ineffective thanks to an outside onslaught highlighted by Crabbe's marksmanship. So, do you play straight up and hope Casto can check Kamp/MSF? Or do you keep doubling and hope that the Cal young guns go cold? Hard to say what changes Monty would make. He had the guys playing tough man to man, forcing early and contested shots, and cleaning the glass. As long as Wazzu didn't get hot, it was a winning strategy. Uh oh. Did I just jinx us?
Cal started off taking quick shots. On the other hand, the Cougars made a pointed effort to drive it inside. With a 3, a layup, and free throws, they cut the lead to 6. After a flurry of exchanged baskets, the lead gets cut to 5.
The Bears got lulled into playing at Wazzu's tempo. By settling for quick shots, they let the Cougars run, gun, and shoot themselves back to a 2 pt game.
Time to lean on the vets, right? Nope. Instead it was an athletic And-One to Crabbe followed by a Smith coast to coast drive which made Thompson sit w/ 3 fouls. For good measure, Smith added another deep J. With each game, you can see the young fella gaining confidence. A career-high 7 assists + crafty layups and hitting the open jumper? I'll take that all year. Not to be upstaged, Crabbe gets a putback and then hits another long J to bring it back to a 10 pt game, 60-50.
But could we hold on? You know the Cougars would make a run, and many of the Cal players were starting to show signs of fatigue...
Thompson came back in. Hits a 3. Back to back assists. MSF and Casto exchanged layups. Solomon hit a 15 footer, but Thompson drew two FT's. The dude is good. MSF went Beast Mode down low, but Thompson answered w/ a bucket and foul that benches MSF w/ 4 fouls. And then Marcus Capers slammed home an offensive board. Just like that, it's a tie game 62-62 all with 7 to go. Doh.
In a microcosm of a young player, Solomon had a great effort sequence on offense followed by a blown assignment on defense. Skied for a great rebound, then turned it over trying to dribble. Then ran the floor hard and got a dunk off a nice dish from Jorge...hustled back on D and drew a charge! 70-68, Cal!!! And then Solomon doesn't step out and allowed Thompson to nail another 3. Sigh. I can't wait until Thompson takes his act to the NBA already.
Once again, Crabbe stepped up and reclaimed the lead w/ two clutch FT's. That's 25 points for those of you scoring at home. California HS Player of the Year? Yep.
And then the D stepped up. After getting torched, Jorge locked Thompson down and forced a turnover followed by a contested off-target jumper.
A Cal turnover is matched by a Cougar miss.
Pivotal sequence of the game: 72-71 Cal. 50 seconds to go. WSU forces an off-balance Jorge jumper as the shot clock expires...but Cal hustle results in an offensive board! Kamp gets fouled and calmly hits two FT's. 3 point Cal lead! 20 seconds to go!
And Klay Thompson hits a 27-ft 3-pointer to tie it up w/ 13.2s to go. FML. Let's go to overtime.
The Good: Continued assertiveness from Solomon and Crabbe.
The Bad: Defensive lapses on Thompson really let him bring the Cougars back.
The Ugly: Bad turnovers at the worst time continue to hurt.
Well, at least we only had one starter with 4 fouls, while two of theirs had four, including Thompson.
Cal wins the jump, and just like that Crabbe fouls out Lodwick and hits two FT's. MSF and DeAngelo Casto exchanged buckets in the paint. Then, Crabbe takes a nice feed from Smith on the break and hits a runner. Throw in a key defensive stop by Smith on Thompson that leads to another MSF post-up. And Cal took a 6 point lead in OT!
Then...disaster. The evil-force-of-nature-Thompson hits a 3 which is followed by a missed Kamp layup. Monty switches to a box and 1, but MSF fouls out giving Wazzu 2 Ft's. 1 pt game.
Amazingly, the refs finally remember that they're allowed to call fouls when Cal players are mugged. Jorge hits two clutch FT's. The Bears D forces a TO and the Cougars decide to deliberately foul Smith with 39.6 seconds to go.
Two more clutch FT's by Smith. Cajones, young man. Tough D leads to a breakaway! But Kamp pulled it out to run clock, and then coolly sank two more FT's to put the Cougars away. That's right. The Bears win! The Bears win!!!
W.O.W. Thompson goes for 36 points. Brought the Cougs back from double digit leads more than once...Hit a clutch 3 to send it into overtime...But projected Pac-10 dark horse contender Wazzu went down anyway. What in the name of Bak Bak just happened?
Youth was served. With the Cougars clearly keying on slowing down Cal's veterans and especially our potent low-post game, we needed someone else to step up. And the Baby Bears answered the call again and again.
Uber-smooth frosh Allen Crabbe matched Klay Thompson's brilliance with a career-high 30 points. As promised, he expanded his game from a standstill 3-point shooter to show off an array of slashing moves and some strength around the basket. Brandon Smith played his best all-around game as a Bear and showed moxie on offense as well as toughness on defense. Richard Solomon seemed like he was everywhere during his time on the court. Even little-used Emerson Murray made a difference and showed a glimmer of why coaches love his potential.
This is what we've been hoping to see all year. This was a Monty-coached team that displayed resilience and poise. Perhaps it wasn't the most elegant basketball, but played hard and were tough when it mattered.
A brief interlude for some fan mail:
Dear Doubters Who Thought I Couldn't Play Pac-10 Ball: 9 pts, 9 assist, 5 rebounds. 44 minutes. Love, B. Smith.
Dear Doubters Who Thought I Can Only Score Over My Right Shoulder And Will Get Shut Down Once Teams with Size Figure That Out: 14 pts, 10 rebounds. Hugs n' Kisses, MSF. PS. I'm still playing hurt. XOXOXO.
The Good: The emergence of Crabbe as Mr. Outside is the perfect complement to our inside duo of Kamp/MSF. Smith's exponential improvement is also allowing Jorge to be Jorge and flourish in his role off the ball. Solomon has become the energy guy as the 6th man and continues to improve. Seeing Murray earning early minutes is promising because he has speed/quickness/hops that none of the other guards have. The guys are starting to play well together. Effort has been there all year, but now we're starting to build on that with improved execution on both ends.
The Bad/The Ugly: Who cares? We won!! Scoreboard, baby! Woo! Go Bears!!!
Yeah, the Huskies are going to be really ticked off on Sunday having been upset down on the Farm. But hey, if the Furds can do it - why not us? Let's just take a moment and appreciate this one for what it is - a great team victory against one of the better teams in the Pac-10 led by a future NBA draft pick. I don't know about you, but I love the way the team is playing right now. Win or lose, we can really be proud of our guys.