Before the season began, Cal-UCLA was circled on the calendar. It's always intense when the standard bearer of the UC system takes on the southern annex-poser-song-stealing-whiners. But it's even more intense when there's a good chance that this contest would be a key swing game in determining the conference champion.
Throw in a high-level chess match between two premier coaches and you had all the ingredients for a bare-knuckle brawl. (Figuratively, not Cincy-Xavier style.)
Neither team disappointed right from the opening tip. Cal opened up working the ball inside with crisp passing. UCLA defied the law of averages by being hot from the outside. While the Bears stuck with their hard-nosed man to man defense, UCLA mixed things up between zone and man.
Good ball movement allowed Cal to take advantage of Crabbe's 3-point shooting, and the Bears crept out to a five point lead...which was promptly erased by a 6-0 Bruin run while Monty rested Kamp and Jorge. Both teams were adept at forcing turnovers and then turning those opportunities into transition points.
With 6:37 to play, Kamp picked up his second foul, and Bear fans everywhere held their collective breaths as Bak checked in for the stretch run.
Within a minute, Bak had a lay-up off a sweet post to post dish from Kravish, forced a missed jumper off a good close out, and snagged a board. Praise be to - well, you know.
The next few minutes were all about Jorge. Disruptive on defense, slicing up the zone, drawing fouls, and scoring in transition - he scored 8 straight points en route to a seven point Cal lead.
But just as it looked like the Bears were ready to break this one open, sloppy play gave it almost all back. UCLA took advantage of offensive rebounds and defensive lapses to make it a one point game at half, 40-39. In classic Cal fashion, we helped their 20% shooter, Tyler Lamb, nearly match his career-high in just one half of play. Although UCLA was only shooting 39% overall, they were a redonkulous 71% from 3. As feared, the Cal bigs struggled to keep the taller Bruins off the glass, especially after Kamp's 2nd foul, and gave up seven offensive boards.
Presumably, both coaches went to the whiteboards for a flurry of halftime adjustments. The Bears promptly roared out on a 10-0 run using stifling defense to force turnovers and contested misses while playing unselfish ball on the other end for open shots. Advantage: Monty.
By the fourteen minute mark, the lead had swelled to twelve off a beautiful feed from Jorge to Kamp for a dunk. And the Bears weren't finished. Their defense was relentless and the offense continued to roll. Cobbs rallied back from a rough 1st half and seemed to recover his swagger driving to the basket to finish or find open shooters. With 11 and change to play, a Crabbe three extended the lead to 17 as part of a 22-6 second half run.
Moments later, walk-on Robert Thurman dunked a vicious and-one over former blue-chipper David Wear, and even the most jaded experienced Cal fan might have started to suspect that we might not lose this one. On the very next possession, true frosh David Kravish flushed one over POY candidate Josh Smith, and now there was a sneaking sense that this might be our day.
Then, the Bears dished it to Robert Thurman on an ALLEY-OOP layup to make it a 24 point lead...and it was time to start thinking about waffles.
When the dust settled, it was all Cal: 85-69. (Waffles! Woo!)
It's always satisfying to beat UCLA. Turmoil aside, it's even better to _destroy_ them. Beyond playing better basketball, this was victory born from superior effort and intensity. On paper, they have the superior talent. You think Jorge cares about that? Take those recruiting rankings and choke on them, southern annex. Unless, of course, Josh Smith already ate them.
Happy New Year, Cal fans. 2-0 in the conference is a nice way to start 2012.