It was an inauspicious start for the California Golden Bears as the visiting Cardinal immediately ran out to a 7-2 lead. As has been the story so often this year, Cal relied on hustle and Jorge to stop the bleeding. A tip off the offensive glass turned into a Gutierrez elbow jumper. The next possession used unselfish ball movement to find Crabbe for a corner 3 and brought the game back to 9-7.
Although the Cardinal had early success feeding the post and penetrating off the dribble, it seemed like momentum had finally shifted when Crabbe stole the ball and drew an intentional foul on the breakaway. Great effort on defense turned into a 5 point play when Crabbe's two made FTs were followed by a Jorge 3 of a nifty feed from Smith. 14-11 Cal!
Interestingly, despite having extra rest, Monty broke tendency and went to his bench early. Smith, Thurman, and Bak all saw early minutes and held the rope.
After the unexpected early offensive outburst, both teams settled down to their characteristic hard-nosed defense. It was one and done for the next several possessions. Although Stanford tried to work it down low and crash the boards, Kamp was rock solid. He held his position to force tough shots and snagged consecutive rebounds. Then, Harper went to work on offense. He had a nifty feed to Kravish for an and-on layup followed by a wing jumper.
Cal had battled their way to a narrow 18-15 point lead when Harper got called for his second foul helping out on defense. Could the Bears handle the next 7:30 with their senior leader on the bench?
Youth was served as Kravish and Behrens scored the next two baskets for Cal. On the next possession, quick hands led to a run-out to Cobbs who converted the old-fashioned three point play to create a 25-16 lead.
Size and speed clashed as the Cardinal tried to crash the glass to draw fouls while Cal used the transition game to good effect. The Furds got their points from the line while Jorge found Crabbe on the look-ahead for a thunderous dunk. The game was looking good at 27-20 Cal with 4:40 to play...and then Jorge picked up his second foul.
With momentum slipping away, it was Christian Behrens who stepped up and temporarily stopped the Stanford run by drawing a key charge on defense. Unfortunately, Kravish then picked up his 2nd foul and became the 3rd starter saddled on the bench with foul trouble. The Cardinal took ruthless advantage and went on a 9-0 run to tie the game at 27 with 1:30 to play.
Crabbe and Cobbs tried to answer, but Stanford got hot late and hit a jumper at the buzzer to go into the locker room up 33-32.
It was a frustrating half. Once again, Cal's over-reliance on a short rotation exposed itself as a physical game got the Bears into serious foul trouble. Although Behrens' athleticism was a breath of fresh air, the reserves had trouble matching up with the multi-dimensional Cardinal bigs.
No need for the infamous Monty cattle prod motivational speech at half. This is a rivalry game and you know that Jorge and Kamp were seething from their extented stint on the bench. Before a minute was up, Kamp drew a charge and Jorge found Crabbe for a jumper to reclaim the lead. But then Cobbs went down with an injury from a hard foul and Stanford tied it up again at 35.
It was a defensive stalemate for the next several minutes. Then Kamp blew by his defender with an explosive first step. Huestis answered with a deep jumper. Kravish got two on a nifty hook...then gave it back by fouling in the post. With 12:30 to play, Harper tied it back up at 40 all with a free throw.
Physical defense ruled the day. After being quick with the whistles in the first half, the refs were either myopic or forgiving and let the guys play. The two teams punched and counter-punched. The Cardinal blinked first. Cobbs got free for a three. One possession later, Smith found Jorge on a nice look-ahead for a transition layup.
Stanford struck with a free throw line jumper. But, Kamp coolly responded with a baseline jumper. It was 46-43 Cal with nine minutes to play. Harper dominated the next two possessions. He drew the third foul on Owens while grabbing a defense board and then went down and drew the fourth on Powell in the post. Two more Kamp FTs put the Bears up 48-43.
Just as Cal looked like they were seizing advantage, back to back fouls by Cobbs and Kravish followed by a Crabbe turnover helped the Cardinal cut it back to three. With the tenuous lead hanging in the balance, the Bears turned to their seniors. Harper Kamp muscled his way inside to grab a board and putback off a missed free throw. Then Jorge played the passing lanes for a steal and took it coast to coast for the layup. Crabbe scored the next four points off a floater and a tip-in. Just like that, it was back to 56-46 at the 5:30 mark.
But before Cal fans everywhere could start popping bottles, Jorge picked up his fourth foul and sat at the 4:30 mark. We were nervous. Rally Com, the Band, and Cal Spirit were nervous. Heck, even Oski was nervous. But Harper Kamp has been here before. He called for the ball, took it strong, and nailed his free throws. Then Cobbs found the Thurminator for a dunk and it was an 11 point game with 3 minutes and change to play.
Stanford wouldn't go away quietly. They scored the next four until Cobbs blew past his man for a layup, then found Kamp underneath. It was fitting that after doing man's work all game long that it was Kamp who put the nails in the coffin with two more free throws for an 11-point lead with 1:17 to play. When the foul n' free throw dust had settled, the scoreboard shone 69-59, BEARS!
You can never get tired of hearing "You know it!" or the sweet, sweet sounds of "Palms of Victory." And despite the inherent ugliness of the source, Stanfurd tears are always sweet.
It would be easy to point solely to the seniors, Jorge and Harper, for willing this team to victory yet again. And it wouldn't be wrong to acknowledge them as the heart and soul of this team. But Crabbe provided scoring and boards all game long. Kravish battled against tough match-ups. Cobbs shook off an injury to slash and set up guys for crucial looks. The production from our bench may not show up on the stat sheet, but Smith, Behrens, and Thurman all gave key contributions which helped tip the balance towards the Blue and Gold. You just can't count out a Monty team. You also can't under-sell the impact of a fired-up home crowd.
By all accounts, the atmosphere was electric at the sold-out Haas Pavilion. Cal Fans, we have a Hall of Fame coach who has our team contending for the Pac-12 title; there's no reason we shouldn't sell-out every game from here on out.
Tournament seeds and reading the tea leaf predictions are a long way away. For now, let's enjoy the ride. I guarantee that we enjoyed this one a lot more than our rivals.