If you told me that we'd get to start our NIT run with our two best big men either limited or out, I'd sigh heavily and start having flashbacks through years of Cal fandom. In a truly unfortunate turn of events, our lone senior found his season come to a cruel end from a dislocated shoulder suffered in practice. No problem. Harper will just have to pick up the slack, right? Um...Harper spent all day vomiting and had to receive several IV's throughout the day. He's going to play, but looks like the walking dead. Can I get an "doh?"
It would have been easy for our Cal Bears to be disheartened and to go quietly into the night. We all know the season has already been success and who could fault us for losing with two of our best players unable to play at full strength?
On the other hand, we could use the adversity as a rallying point and use a "rabid" home crowd to play out of our minds! Who's with me!?!?!
Cal came out in zone. Smart move considering the depth issues and might have been the plan all along because we have trouble matching up with their quicker guards. It was clear from the start that Jorge didn't get the memo about our depth chart woes. Or maybe he got it and just didn't care. Between Jorge's driving brilliance and Crabbe's sniping from 3, the Bears quickly ran out to a 19-8 lead. Solomon and Bak Bak were doing a great job early on controlling the glass. Then Solomon took an elbow to the nose and had to sit. Ole Miss took advantage and went on an 8-3 run using several offensive boards to prolong their possessions. It became clear that it would be a contest between Ole Miss' streaky 3-point shooting and Cal's determination. Kamp started strong, but looked like he wore down and didn't show the same lift or agility around the basket. Similarly, Jorge kept making hustle plays, but his jumper started to look really flat. To stop Jorge and Smith from penetrating, Ole Miss went exclusively zone. They were almost playing a bit of a matchup with someone always jumping out at Crabbe while leaving Smith open on the perimeter. Although Smith hit one jumper, he wasn't able to make them pay. The guys were battling, but it looked Ole Miss' superior depth started to wear us down.
The good: Great energy to start. We rode Jorge's aggression and Crabbe's 3 point shooting to a slim 41-39 lead at half.
The bad: Even though 3-pt shooting is what Ole Miss does, our zone got tired and started giving up easier looks. Warren and Graham were as advertised from deep.
The ugly: When Solomon was out of the game, we gave up too many offensive boards. In particular, our wings and guards were getting beaten to the long rebounds.
I'm not sure what magical adjustments Monty could make at halftime. Our post game simply didn't have the same threat with MSF out and with Kamp being clearly impaired. At this point in the season, it's not so much knowing where to go on defense and how to run the sets on offense - it was more about having the legs and stamina to get it done. Jorge and Kamp led the way out of the gates along with a revamped defense that forced several early turnovers. In a surprising move, Monty decided to go man and it seemed to confuse the Ole Miss offense for a time. Cal was able to build a slim 6 pt lead behind a bucket and free throws from...Bak Bak? But our momentum stalled around some curious non-calls, and Ole Miss rallied behind a 3 from Warren and a Henry free throw. We regained the lead using great defense to force turnovers and some nifty passing on the offensive end. Then, Solomon had to go out with an unknown leg injury...and Cal fans everywhere felt that familiar knot start deep in our collective guts. But just when it seemed the tide had turned, the mighty Bak Bak got himself dunked on and managed to make it such a posterized moment that he drew a technical on an Ole Miss player for taunting. Brilliant! Crabbe shook off a cold streak to nail a 3, a free throw, and then a leaner to give Cal a 10 point lead, 68-58, with 5:36 to play. But then fatigue and injury took their toll. The Bears slowly gave away their lead through a combination of turnovers and missed free throws. Ole Miss rode Chris Warren's scoring to cut it to 73-72 with 44.7 to go. Kamp answered with a clutch baseline jumper off a nice look from Emerson Murray. A quick drive netted two free throws for Henry...Uh oh. Could Cal win a free throw shooting contest? No way. So, Jorge decided to put the game away. After calmly nailing two free throws to regain our three point lead, he locked up Chris Warren and knocked the ball away. Henry picked up the loose ball, but his desperation heave was off line. And the Bears have won!!!
The ugly: It feels like a quibble, but we left a lot of points at the free throw line.
The bad: As the guys got tired, we forced a few early shots and made some sloppy turnovers that helped get them back in the game.
The good: We won! We finally closed out a game by putting our best defensive player on their star scorer. As great as Jorge was all game, the game ball goes to Harper Kamp for shaking off the flu (hospitalized for multiple IVs?!) and a rough 1st half to be our rock in the 2nd half.
I suppose we shouldn't be surprised anymore. This team is tough. Boot-leather tough. Decade-old beef jerky tough. @Desmond Bishop twitter-verse tough. Our guys fought through injuries, fatigue, and illness to pull one out against a dangerous SEC team. With Ole Miss streaky 3-point shooting and Warren's individual brilliance, you knew that no lead was safe. But we got just enough scoring from Allen Crabbe, hustle plays from Jorge, and clutch baskets from not-quite-dead-yet Harper Kamp. And you can't overlook the contributions of Robert Thurman, Bak Bak, and Emerson Murray for being able to give our starters a breather. If heart were justly rewarded, we wouldn't face a quick two-day turnaround against a #1 seed on the road. But you know what? I wouldn't want to play us. Let's go annex Colorado. Go Bears!