On a night where their offense couldn't get going against Arizona State's harsh matchup zone, the Golden Bears played their best defense of the season when it mattered the most.
Every shot was contested, every baseline cut was guarded, every screen and roll was switched, almost every possession for ASU's offense ran 30-35 seconds. The Devils scored only 16 points in the second half and TWO in the final ten minutes until a meaningless dunk in garbage time. It was, as they say, a "championship performance" by the Bears, in a conference where defense has been the name of the game this year.
On Senior Day, when the Bears were having trouble nailing any of their shots, it was the defense that put them over the top, headed by Jamal Boykin inside. Eric Boateng was taken completely out of the game, scoring only 4 points and never really factoring in. Ty Abbott was forced to take some tough looking shots--even the ones he made weren't ones Devil fans would've wanted to see him take. Every Cal starter had at least three rebounds
Just like in Tempe, Jorge Gutierrez made all the big plays in the second half to finally put some space between the Bears and Devils, dunking the ball (At least I think it was a dunk. I was too stunned to cheer.) and connecting a crazy AND-1 high (really, really high) off the glass (off of nothing? I can't even tell.) that put the Bears up 5. ASU would get no closer after that. Just like in Tempe, Boykin kept on getting fed and kept on making shots--he scored six points down the stretch run, went 7 of 9 for the field for the game.
It wasn't the aesthetically greatest game for any of these Bears, but because of the stakes and the competitiveness between both of these teams, you have to reward Cal's aggressive hustle on defense and their smooth flow on offense for finally stepping up to the stage.
After the jump, more in-depth talk about this game.
For much of the first half, you could tell there was a lot of tight play. The seniors, already hyped from having the Senior Day celebration earlier on, looked a little tentative in running their sets and trying to find open looks. The pace was very slow throughout--although both teams were efficient, the Bears weren't playing crisp offensively.
ASU looked really good for much of the first half, keeping Cal off balance as they executed to perfection, shooting 51 percent and getting everyone involved. Jerren Shipp (what the hell is it with these Shipp brothers trying to torture us?) went off, putting 10 points on the board on a perfect 6 for 6 shooting display (4-4 FGs, 2-2 FTs).
Patrick Christopher provided our offense early, scoring 7 of the first 11 points, and Theo Robertson carried us through the middle as he got 7 of the next 13. Jerome Randle could never get it going shooting-wise, but he did have two huge plays at the end of the half (a three pointer off an offensive rebound, and a last second floater in the lane) that helped cut the ASU lead to one. It was a curious balancing act, where each of the three big Bears provided their share of the load in pieces.
But basketball is a two half game, and the second half was all Bears. PC came back in the second half with more early offense (7 of the first 13) to help keep Cal ahead to stay. Theo pounded the glass along with Christopher with ten boards. And Boykin was our rock, scoring 10 points, and ramping up the defensive intensity.
Not to be overlooked, the underclassmen provided a lot of the key contributions down the stretch. Omondi Amoke put us ahead with his free throws and had two huge blocks that got the crowd pumped. It was Markhuri Sanders-Frison with two pretty passes to Christopher and Gutierrez. And Jorge seemingly had his mark on every key play, taking over the ball-handling duties from the struggling Randle, and played aggressively both ways. A total team effort, when every Golden Bear found a way to contribute in a significant way.
Oh how I wish I could have been there. All those years of near misses and teams that didn’t play like TEAMS. If the talent we had under Lou and Braun and Bozeman had been coached as well as these guys, they would have won a title too. Did you see all the set plays? Did you see all the sharp passing inside the lane? Did you see the killer D? That’s coaching, cause buddha knows we don’t have a massive talent differential.
Kudos to Monty from bringing this team back from the abyss, and putting them back in. BlackandOldGold summed what Cal fans all feel now.
Oh, how I used to hate Monty. Oh, how I LOVE Monty.
It was one of those perfect games at Haas. norcalnick describes the environment:
Every play, every basket, every defensive stop just kept building and building and the crowd just kept getting louder, and the players kept getting better…Best basketball game of my life.
Indeed, Haas was rocking like it used to back in the day. Hopefully this is the start of the trend, not an aberration, A Pac-10 title share should help things for the future.
But really, who wants to share this one? The Bears can clinch the Pac-10 outright with a win in Maples next week. Our journey's not over yet. BEAT THE FURD.
But it's too hard not to smile right now.