In the UCLA preview, I specifically described the excruciatingly painful ways UCLA has beaten Cal lately. It's been a horror show of pain, misery and bad luck. And then, with Cal up three, Malcolm Lee shot a sideways fall-away desperation three pointer over the long arms of Allen Crabbe that clanged high off the front rim.
And fell straight down through the net.
And we all had to watch as Lee danced around the court throwing out confusing hand signs as if the shot wasn't unbelievably lucky. You can't make these things up. If UCLA had gone on to win the game in overtime it would have been a monumentally undeserved win. The Bruins have significantly more talent, depth and experience than the Bears and a coach with three final four appearances on his resume, and yet they've underachieved for a healthy portion of this year and for the majority of last night's game. Meanwhile, Cal played a rotation of six and a half players, with a total of approximately four and a half healthy bodies. On paper, this game is a mismatch, but the Bears outplayed UCLA for most of the game.
So you'll excuse me if I couldn't help but feel that karma owed Cal fans this one. And much more importantly, karma owed the players. It's been a minor miracle that Cal has been competitive in every Pac-10 game not against Washington. Markhuri Sanders-Frison has had awful foot-pain and spent time in the first half on an excercise bike. Harper Kamp's back is killing him and he winced every time he had to pick himself off the floor. Allen Crabbe was playing his first game after a concussion. And Jorge Gutierrez is 35% muscle pain and 65% deep bone bruises. This isn't anything new, either. It's been like this for the majority of the conference schedule. And yet the Bears are a few lucky bounces away from a conference record of 11-4 or 10-5 instead of 7-8.
What I loved about this game was that it felt like the entire team threw everything at this game, possibly to the detriment of games on the rest of the schedule. The losing streak was too long, and it had to end today. Monty decided he would let the team play man-to-man, and the entire team embraced that challenge. The result? UCLA was held to just 18 points in the first half. The rotation was also extremely thin, even though this was the 2nd game of the week. Only seven Bears saw the floor, and all five starters recorded 37 minutes or more. Four played 41 minutes or more. MSF probably would have played 40 plus if he hadn't hurt himself in the first half and picked up his forth foul with about six minutes to go. There are three more games on the schedule, including a road trip to Oregon, but Cal played this game like they were never going to see the court again.
As for Jorge . . . I don't even know how to begin describing everything he did yesterday. We knew going in that he's arguably the best defender in the Pac-10, but Cal's need to play zone had taken away much of his abilities to change the game on defense. Watching him play 40 minutes of man-to-man defense was a cruel reminder of what could have been this year if the Bears had the depth to play that way all season.
But I certainly had no idea that he could go off for 34 points and just dominate a game on the offensive end in every way possible. Never did I imagine that a game winning play would happen because the threat of Jorge charging to the rim would cause an entire team to collapse in on him, freeing Brandon Smith to launch a wide open three. The very best players dominant even when the opposition knows exactly what they are going to do. Everybody knew that Jorge was going to attack the paint on every possession in overtime, and he still created points every time. (Note: Huge assist to MSF, because that dude knows how to set a screen.)
I don't usually embed the following chart, because it's usually just a meaningless blob of color. But I'll make an exception this time, because wow look at all that green:
And for good measure, here's the four factors:
Wow - a game Cal won because of offensive rebounding and forced turnovers! I never thought I'd see the day! I'm not sure Monty considered that UCLA is very turnover prone when he decided to let the guys play man-to-man, but either way it worked like a charm! And kudos to all Cal players for crashing the offensive glass, particularly Harper Kamp with five.
In the grand scheme of things this game doesn't mean much. Cal still needs to win the Pac-10 tournament to reach the NCAAs. But in the grand scheme of things this game means everything, because this was UCLA coming into Berkeley looking to win a Pac-10 championship, and Cal had lost four in a row. This team exorcised some serious demons, likely crushed a rival's title hopes, and further enshrined Jorge into the Hall of Awesome. No longer is our overlooked guard from Chihuahua, by way of Colorado, by way of Nevada just the king of hustle, grit and toughness. His performance goes way beyond words we often throw out to praise players who lack natural talent. Well, Jorge's got game, and he proved it over and over to the tune of 34 points.