I'm not sure if the cliché "Good teams find ways to win when they aren't playing well" applies to this game, but two facts are indisputable: Cal did not play well, and Cal won the game. They won because of defense, they won because Colorado played down with them, but mostly they won because Harper Kamp made plays when they had to have them.
Harper's rough game last Sunday in Oregon was enough to cause concern, but I think the general consensus was not to worry because a) he's the 4th option in the offense and b) he's clearly playing through pain. The pain was pretty obvious today. Perhaps my favorite play of the night was when Harper turned the ball over, but atoned by chasing down Andre Roberson and somehow getting set enough to draw a charge. His hustle was rewarded with some back pain, and as he writhed on the court I wondered how he was so effective. I feel like you can see the impact of his back problems when he takes free throws - he doesn't look as smooth and comfortable as last year, when he shot 81.6% from the line. Maybe it's just the power of suggestion and I'm imagining things?
The other memorable play from this game was his clutch bucket to give Cal a 3 point lead with 50 seconds left. The possession was a near disaster the entire way. Jorge drove wildly into the paint with no escape valve, and two passes nearly stolen before the ball got to Kamp on the right wing. With the shot clock running down, he just drove, ended up getting twisted so that he was more or less facing away from the basket, and still flipped it in.
Harper may not score 20 points in a game again this year, and I sincerely hope he doesn't need to carry the offense again. But it's comforting to know that he'll be there, as an interior defender and cog in the offense. His contributions are perhaps the least obvious on the team, but we all know it would be disastrous to lose him.
The other key was the defensive effort. Cal held Colorado to their lowest offensive efficiency of the season, which isn't a huge surprise considering Colorado's mediocre schedule, but still. Cal didn't allow Roberson to dominate the offensive glass and they didn't allow any open shots unless it was Austin Dufault from three. Argh.
Cal had some of the best hedging I've seen in a while from every big that entered the game, and it seemed to really slow down Colorado's offense. Cal's traps off of hedges weren't ultra aggressive, turnover creating machines, but they broke up the rhythm of the offense and led to situations where the Buffs took lower percentage shots towards the end of the shot clock. It helped that none of Colorado's guards seemed willing or able to split the hedge or otherwise penetrate.
The bad from this game is pretty obvious. 2-17, 2-9, 3-9. The field goal lines from Jorge, Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs. I will say this: I thought Colorado put on a pretty good defensive effort - certainly much better than what Cal faced against Oregon, UCLA and (presumable, since we didn't see it) Oregon State. Carlon Brown, Nate Tomlinson and Askia Booker were all able to stay tight on our guards, and on the rare occasions that they got in the paint Roberson was waiting to contest and block shots. That said, the Bears missed shots that they would typically make, especially Jorge. Runners, pull up jumpers, base line spot-up shots, open threes . . . at least half of Jorge's shots were reasonable looks. Crabbe and Cobbs missed decent looks too.
-Cal won this game because of turnovers. Specifically, because Colorado is just inherently a turnover prone team. The only Pac-12 team that turns the ball over more than Colorado is point-guard-less U (otherwise known as Arizona St.), and that was the difference in a game that was slightly leaning towards the Buffs in most other aspects. See below:
-David Kravish impresses more and more every game. I personally would like to see more minutes for Richard Solomon (just 12), but Kravish more or less held his own against Roberson, picked up a few key offensive rebounds, and made some really impressive blocks. As long as he's not matched up on somehow who can exploit his slim frame, he's a spectacular defender for a freshman.
-The blowouts in the non-conference schedule were fun, but now we're into competitive conference play, which means heavy minutes for the starters. Cobbs: 39, Crabbe and Gutierrez: 38, Kamp: 33. It'll be nice to have Brandon Smith back.
So. Huge win. We're tied for first place in the conference and get the presumed bottom-dweller of the conference at home next. A win would set us up nicely for the defining middle stretch of conference play. Style points be damned, the Bears are exactly where we want them to be.