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Cal 76, Iowa State 73: Golden Bears Come Through In The Clutch

Well this game made perfect sense. When I think of the California Golden Bears men's basketball team I think of shooting timely three-pointers, and hitting pressure free throws down the stretch.

Oh. Wait a minute. That was LAST year's team.

Well then. It's nice to see this year's team adopting some of those habits too.

Although the big advantage down low was the key to Cal's 76-73 victory over Iowa State, the threes and free throws were the things the Golden Bears needed to win this one. Cal did a lot of damage with Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin knocking down triples--Crabbe, Jorge Gutierrez, and Nigel Carter all hit critical threes at crucial moments to pace Cal to 40 percent shooting from downtown. After struggling with their free throws all season (only 62.4% on the season), Cal nailed 15 of 18 from the line, including nine of ten in the final three minutes.

But the stars of our game were the bigs. Markhuri Sanders-Frison came in and dominated down low, converting on six of seven shots and picking up twelve points and six rebounds before fouling out. Harper Kamp racked up another double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, steadily contributing and cleaning up the glass. And the legend of Bak Bak grows. You probably thought he was a one-trick pony after the UC Davis game, but Gutierrez found him alone under the basket for the big and-one layup under a minute left to break a 69-69 tie with 47 seconds left. 

(Kodiak and I combine on the rest of this recap. Check it out after the jump.)

Just as important was the perimeter defense by Crabbe and Gutierrez. Although Scott Christopherson was unstoppable with seven triples and 25 points over Brandon Smith and Gary Franklin, Jake Anderson shot 4 for 15 and Melvin Ejim was 1 for 9. Diante Garrett was a quiet 5 for 9.

Iowa State's transition offense is their strength with their three guard lineup and cadre of small and fast players, but they were held in check today. Although Cal committed 18 turnovers and Iowa State picked up 21 points off those turnovers, only 7 of those points were off of fast breaks. Defenders did a good job of cutting off the lane and the fast break drives. Gutierrez stopped one layup by breaking up one Iowa State player's dribble. Franklin prevented another by jumping in the way of a layup attempt, forcing the Cyclone to throw it up a little bit higher off the rim than he'd have liked to. Small plays like that on defense are things Cal has lacked over the last decade in hoops, and it's good to see that we're playing with great effort on the defensive side of the ball.

Onto player evaluations:

Although his jumper is much improved (as evidenced by the pull-up baskets he nailed today) Gutierrez still struggled ball-handling. He did have five assists and two turnovers, but those numbers reflect an offense that required him to run within the offense rather than run it through him. He makes quirky decisions, which is probably what happens when your game is all about physical effort and less so mental mechanics. Hey, he found Bak at the end and nailed those two free throws, didn't he?

It's probably why we saw a lot more of Smith taking care of the rock down the stretch; Gutierrez's play seemed to improve as he moved to the two-guard spot. On one early play we went inside to MSF, force a double team, out to Smith with a swing to Jorge for an open 3. It was a much smoother run. Smith came up huge with his shot-making as well. He showed confidence in taking one step and nailing open jumpers, aka long twos. He's become a very serviceable backup point, and that could be critical in conference play when the competition grinds on us week in, week out.

Franklin's shot looked good early, although he finished 2 for 11 and didn't play much down the stretch. Carter actually came in during stretches to play. Crabbe played better (4 for 9, 3 of 7 from downtown, 11 points and six boards), but both the two starting youngsters were quiet down the stretch as they deferred to the veterans.

Kamp had a quiet game early on.  Like the UCD game, it's a tough match-up for him to stick with big guys who are more comfortable on the perimeter than the post. However, he eventually got back to his strengths.  He dominated the glass early in the 2nd half.  He was opportunistic in the low post, got a huge offensive board and putback, drove the floor for another layup, saved a possession with his hustle, hit two critical free throws to keep Cal in the lead, etc.  He did the little dirty things that was necessary to grind this one out.

Interestingly, since most of the teams in the Pac-10 run more of a three-guard look, he's going to need to learn how to adjust.  Otherwise, we might have to rotate MSF/Kamp and use a more mobile guy in the lineup--which won't be too optimal, since Cal's a much better team with those two playing on the court at the same time.

Sanders-Frison could not be stopped when the Cyclones defense let him turn right shoulder and hit the lefty hook in the lane. That move really helped him create open shots for the perimeter players as a second defender would come inside and try a soft double-team.  His improved stamina was really showing today.  He was a beast on offense, solid on the defensive glass, and was able to keep up with a fairly fast-paced game for most of the first half.

All in all, the happiest and most pleasant surprise has to be Bak Bak. He does have to work on his touch and his handling of the ball. He struggles receiving entry passes and has rebounds slip through his fingers. Nevertheless, if someone told me that Bak Bak would get a key block with a minute to play, I would have told you that to stop sniffing glue.  If you told me that he'd make a key layup while getting fouled with a tie game, I'd have stuttered that the Giants had a better chance of winning the World Series.  And then hit the free throw, then get a steal, then hit two clutch FT's despite shooting 25% for the year? Snake eyes it is.

Now onto even tougher tasks. San Diego State is coming to town, and they are for real. Should be the biggest test of our season so far. Is Cal up to the challenge?