Last night the emotional focus was all on Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp - as well it should have been. Two all time greats who have participated in some of the highest highs Cal basketball has reached in the last, oh, 50 years. But the game itself was a reminder that Cal is succeeding because they have a great nucleus of players around their two seniors, and a great coach to put them in the right place.
Consider the stats. Every single starter scored in double figures, and the lowest scorer of those five played 40 minutes and dished out 13 assists. Four different players recorded exactly seven or eight rebounds. Nobody had more than three turnovers. If Jorge Gutierrez doesn't win Pac-12 Player of the Year, you can blame Justin Cobbs for playing so well that Jorge doesn't have to run the offense and control the ball on every play.
And the defense was just as good. After getting torched by dribble penetration from Jared Cunningham and giving up open three after open three, Cal really clamped down. Obviously giving up 29 less points to the same team tells you a little bit about how much better this team did, but it was obvious watching the game. OSU had to work so much harder for decent shots, and settled for really low percentage looks frequently. There were at least five or six airballs throughout the game, as a team used to getting up shots quickly was forced to work the offense much longer than they'd like.
I watched the game live (from the 2nd highest row in Haas, where you can't see the scoreboards and screens because your view is blocked by the backside of the advertisements an retired jerseys!) and thus didn't have a great sense of all the different defensive wrinkles that Monty threw at Oregon State, though the 2nd half zones were clearly effective. I will say that I thought David Kravish had perhaps his best defensive effort of the season - he hedged really well, he played strong inside without fouling, and he even picked up three blocks.
It's also worth noting that this game was called in a manner perfect for Cal. Oregon State is a relatively deep team that depends on drawing fouls and getting to the line to succeed on offense. Cal is a shallow team that needs its starters to play 30+ minutes each without foul issues to remove defensive aggressiveness. Jared Cunningham only attempted two free throws. Jorge's first foul was with 10:43 left . . . in the second half. That never happens. I honestly didn't think that Cal had the horses to keep Cunningham out of the lane so consistently. Only 8 shot attempts inside the arc, a number of those being low percentage jumpers and fade aways? Wow.
Also, a word on Justin Cobbs. 13 assists, 3 turnovers. And just two days after 8 assists, 0 turnovers. He's very quietly risen to the top of the conference in assist/turnover ratio . . . as a sophomore. Granted, throwing passes to players like Harper and Jorge will probably make you look OK, but nobody puts up stats like that without talent. That he combines that passing with excellent shooting and a solid ability to penetrate the lane is exciting both for this season and next.
Beautiful. Held the Beavers to about 10% below their usual shooting percentage and a whopping 20% their usual FTA/FGA ratio. Beat them at their own game! The other key was taking pretty good care of the ball other than a couple minutes in the first half when they threw the 1-3-1 zone at us for the first time. It's a really effective trick before teams re-adapt - I've seen it create a few turnovers four or five times this year. If Craig Robinson could just make the man-to-man decently effective OSU would be really dangerous.
But OSU just isn't there yet, making them the perfect foil on an emotional night for Cal fans. It was a reminder of everything that makes college sports wonderful. Passionate students making signs, yelling, stripping down to their running shorts and creating nearly choreographed tributes to their classmates. Saying goodbye to players that overcame obstacles to become better players than you ever thought possible. Yelling with 10,000 friends because a conference title is so close that you can practically taste it. You have to savor games like these because highs this high don't come every year.