It was supposed to have been an early round romp through a sleepy tryptophan-fueled haze. But apparently, no one gave the Drake Bulldogs a copy of the script.
From the opening tip to the final buzzer, Drake refused to go away. Although conventional wisdom often calls for teams from lesser leagues to slow the tempo or play a quirky system, the Bulldogs hung their hat on a hard-nosed man-to-defense and pushed the pace whenever they could. It didn't help things that team energizer and new-fan-favorite Ricky Kreklow re-injured his foot during warm-ups and wasn't able to go.
Even so, Cal ran out to an early 19-9 lead buoyed by some nifty footwork by Richard Solomon and clever ball movement inside to Richard Thurman.
But the Bulldogs got hot from the perimeter while the Bears struggled to put up good shots. In particular, Allen Crabbe had trouble getting free for any decent looks and ended up sitting with foul trouble. Cobbs wasn't able to pick up the slack and the Bears left points on the board at the free throw line. The lead dwindled to 24-23 at the 5 minute mark.
Monty was forced to go to his bench and put in Bak Bak. Moments later, Drake exploited the inside match-up to tie things up 24-all. Cal battled back using a couple of Smith free throws and a nice transition drive by Wallace to regain the lead, 27-24.
Thurman made a nice lefty hook, and Cobbs got himself to the free throw line, but Drake responded to every Cal score with jumpshots of their own. It was all timed up, 33 a piece, at the half.
With Cobbs and Crabbe struggling, it was left to Wallace and…Thurman to carry the scoring load. On the other hand, Drake kept moving the ball and making shots. Previous hints of inconsistent Cal defense were exposed with alarming regularity. With every made bucket, you could see Drake's confidence growing. This is exactly the script which reads, "Upset City."
Oddly enough, all these fireworks occurred with each team's leading scorer, Crabbe and Simons, struggling from the field.
The 2nd half started as an extension of the first. The teams continued to exchange blows. Solo showed off a newfound touch on offensive while Crabbe got going with a couple of deep jumpers. The lead slowly crept to 44-40. But empty possessions and a double technical on Solomon for griping at a no-call and Monty for backing him up gave Drake the lead back to 47-44 with 15 to play.
Kravish stopped the bleeding with a pair of free throws, but Drake nailed a three and quickly got themselves into the bonus. It was 52-46 Drake at the 13 minute mark. And all the momentum was decidedly not blue and gold.
But then Cobbs hit a jumper, Wallace followed with a nifty runner in the lane, and then Cobbs hit a pull-up in the lane. The Bears' offensive flurry was met by a Drake 3 and an a baseline runner.
And then the flood gates opened. Drake got hot and started hitting both inside and out. They extended the lead to 64-55 and it began to look like there would be dessert for our Thanksgiving meal.
But Cobbs was having none of that. He hit two free throws, found Solo for a layup, and then found Crabbe for a triple. It was a 66-62 game with five to play.
After a key stop, Cobbs put his foot on the accelerator and got himself to the foul line in transition. It was 66-64 as part of a 9-2 run. Moments later, Solo cleared the glass, got it ahead to Smitty, and it was AND-ONE to regain the lead at 67-66.
A Crabbe driving layup pushed the lead to three with 3:27 to play. After all the free flowing offense early in the game, the final minutes were played out as a defensive struggle. An exchange of ugly possessions resulted in Drake tying things up, 69-all.
When Crabbe got called for an offensive foul with just a minute and a half to play, it didn't look good. It looked worse when Kravish fouled a Bulldog drive and put Drake on the line. At 70-69 with a minute to play, Cal fans everywhere were wondering who would step up.
Cobbs quieted any doubters with a cool pull-up jumper to regain the lead. The Bears played tough defense to force a miss on a contested three. Then Drake made a critical mistake by fouling Cobbs off a pick and roll. A split on the free throws made it 73-70, Cal. Although the refs tried to make it interesting by putting the Bulldogs on the line. The ball didn't lie and this was the final score. Whew.
It was a surprisingly tough game for the first round on Turkey Day.
The Good: Cal found a way to win. Although Drake kept making shots, the Bears were the ones that made the key plays down the stretch. Solo showed off some offensive moves that we haven't seen all year. Cobbs and Crabbe bounced back from sluggish starts. Wallace and Thurman were solid all game long. In particular, Wallace had a really nice game and was rewarded with extended minutes with the starters.
The Bad: Cal had to find a way to win. When our two main scorers were struggling, we didn't have a lot of answers. Solo was in foul trouble all game long and Kravish wasn't able to exert himself against their front court.
The Ugly: We had to play our starters big minutes and exert a lot of energy to pull this one out. Kreklow's injury could be a huge blow to this Cal team. As feared, our perimeter defense just isn't the same without Jorge.
At this point, a win is a win and that extra piece of pumpkin pie is calling. It's a late tip against Georgia Tech tomorrow. (9pm PST)