So...we're riding a 3 game win-streak...playing at home...against a team that's 1-8 in conference play. And, our guys have continued to get better game by game. Yeaaaah. Cal fans everywhere are donning hard hats and looking for signs that the sky is falling.
In somewhat of a rarity for this season of growing pains, we all knew that this is a game we should win. The question is whether or not the young Bears would continue to stay focused and play hard, or would they stumble in homage to Cal's dubious legacy of heartache.
It's a good thing we have an elite-level coach to keep them focused. Right?
Poised aggression early. Instead of surviving the press, we attacked and punished them for being out of position. How about 4-4 shooting, and all layups to start? If not for some en fuego shooting from McMillan/Abbott(including some NBA range 3's), this could have easily been a decisive Cal run out of the gates.
It's really impressive how far this team has come since that 5 pt half debacle. They're moving the ball with confidence and purpose.
It was an interesting decision for Monty to go zone considering ASU lacks inside heft but has a number of outside shooters. It looked shaky early when ASU was scorching the nets. But while they were relying on jumpers, our guys were pushing it in transition and getting layups on the other end.
And yet, despite the fact that we were once again pounding them on the glass and the overall feeling that we were soundly outplaying the Sun Devils, it was only a 4 pt lead halfway through the first stanza. Did anyone else feel a bit uneasy?
You can't say that Sendek doesn't know a thing or two. When it was clear that his press was leading to easy Cal baskets, he backed off. Forced to play a set defense, the Cal offense slowed down noticeably.
Although it was just a 6 point lead with 8 minutes to go, many of ASU's baskets came from shots that we wanted them to take. Give them credit for making low percentage, difficult shots. Give credit to Monty for knowing not to overcompensate because of fool's gold.
But the Sun Devils' defense remained stingy and the Bears started missing easy shots. Of course, the Devils continued to scorch the nets and took a 2 pt lead with just under 4 minutes to play. And we all said, "Yep. Here we go."
It still seemed like an odd decision to play so much zone when ASU lacks any interior punch, but thrives on the perimeter. But, in Monty we trust, I suppose.
Great effort from MSF and Kamp brought us even with a minute and change to play. And then a burst of defensive energy led to back to back steals and 2 pt lead...for a hiccup. After an exchange of free throws, the Bears reclaimed a 2pt lead at the half.
The Good: Great offensive executive against the press and trap.
The Bad: Against a set defense, our offense wasn't nearly as effective.
The Ugly: We didn't play poorly on defense, but got seriously lit up.
I was really curious to see if Monty would switch up the D out of the half. Everything out of ASU's attack screamed "man" to me. Not only was Lockett killing us on drives from the high post, but their perimeter players were having a field day. On the other hand, Monty wears a suit on game day while I sit on the couch with a bag of Doritos...
And we started with zone. Despite being known for favoring man, Monty knows that his guys feel more confident playing zone and is adapting. It's one of the things that makes him such a great coach.
And we continued to get lit up on drives and open 3's. With under 18 to go, we switch to man. Monty isn't overly stubborn and is more than willing to switch things up as needed. It's one of the things that makes him such a great coach.
You could really tell what was emphasized during the halftime talk. The guys were re-focused and there was a concerted effort to take advantage of our size and pound it inside to MSF.
But ASU continued to make tough shots and played stingy D. Lockett continued to be a matchup nightmare and just killed us out of the high post either scoring or creating. You could feel that familiar yeah-we're-Cal feeling starting to form in the pit of your stomach as the Devils pulled out to a 5 pt lead...
And that's when Jorge decided that enough was enough. A nifty assist to Kamp was followed by a hustle-dive out of bounds to save the ball to Cal, and a fearless drive for some needed free throws. 2 pt game.
ASU went small and forced Kamp to chase Lockett. But, we weren't able to take advantage of the mismatch on the other end because of their swarming zone. Unlike the duel in the desert, our strength on the glass was negated by their young bigs. Also, Sendek decided to go 11 deep, but we weren't getting a lot of minutes or production out of our bench. Like we saw last year, Monty isn't afraid of riding his veterans.
And the veterans delivered. Kamp and MSF scored down low. Jorge drew a charge on D, and made play after play on offense. Tie game with 9 minutes to go.
No bueno, said Jorge. Steal and foul to put Cal ahead!
Then back to back to back 3's by the Sun Devils gave them a 7 pt lead. Oh heck. Soooo, this home field advantage thing. I don't think it means what you think it means. Why else would Crabbe be struggling so badly? Too much Top Dog???
You knew it wasn't going to be our night when you saw MSF's signature lefty hook rim out while their shooters continued to hit every part of the rim and drop it through. Meanwhile, their frosh guard who is shooting 20% from the field was hitting pull-up fall-aways with the shot clock expiring. Le Sigh.
But if there's one thing this team has done all year, it's battle and substitute floor burns and grit when skill fails. Although we went without a field goal for over 5 minutes, hustle and effort kept bringing us to the free throw line. Would it be enough? 4 pt game. 5 and a half to play.
Even though they seemed to hit unlikely shots no matter our defense, Monty continued to switch from man to zone and back. And finally it started to work. A couple of missed ASU jumpers and then...5 PT PLAY!!! Crabbe fouled on a 3...made 2/3 but snags the offensive board which led to a Smith 3. Wow! Cal reclaimed a 1pt lead with 4 minutes to play!
Then MSF and Kamp both picked up their 4th fouls...and we all started to feel like it was 3rd and long again...
And when Crabbe turned it over with a minute to play...it started to feel like 4th and long...And when Lockett squared up and isolated Kamp again...You knew we had it. After being lit up all game, Kamp showed that smarts and anticipated can put you one move ahead of pure athleticism. He blocked Lockett and snatched the shot out of the air.
And despite doing almost everything we could to turn it over on the most crucial possession of the game, a stumbling Jorge managed to flip the ball to Crabbe. 1 for 9? Whatever. Remorseless 3 to clinch the game. Boom!
Leave it to the Bears to put a 4-game winning streak in perspective.
The Ugly: It seemed like we struggled to find an answer on D all night long. Almost no production from our bench.
The Bad: Although we eventually reclaimed the glass, ASU managed to outrebound us during stretches of the game. We weren't taking bad shots, but we struggled to make baskets that we'd normally consider to be automatic.
The Good: We won! For a young team - heck, for any team, the mental toughness and resolve shown when it looked like things just weren't going our way was impressive. Props to all of the guys for really picking up the energy on D when they needed to, and for making big shots when it counted. MSF, Kamp, Smith, Crabbe all made huge plays down the stretch. And the game ball goes unanimously to Jorge for absolutely refusing to let us lose.
Give ASU credit. Their D was like iron and they made tough shots all game long. So how did the Bears win while shooting 39.6% from the field and 23.5% from 3? How about by going 24-29 (82.8%) from the line. If you just looked at shooting the basketball, this was a game we should have lost. They were draining buckets from all over while our shots were rimming out. Even frosh phenom Allen Crabbe struggled mightily with arguably his worst shooting performance of the year. But while as armchair point guards everywhere started to rationalize that "this just isn't our night," the Bears never gave up. They willed themselves to find a way to win. In some ways, this is more impressive than last week's annihilation of the visiting Ducks. Hey, I'll take it. Now that we have the shooting slumps out of the way, let's scorch the nets and bring our A-game on Saturday for the Wildcats. Go Bears!