It was an auspicious start to the rubber match when David Kravish won the tip and tapped it to Cobbs for a breakaway layup.
But then the Bears proceeded to pick up quick fouls on both Jorge and Kravish and you started to wonder if it was going to be another one of those games. Add in two missed free throws by Jorge with some early turnover issues and you started to worry about those demons. Throw in 3 pointer by Stanford's Zimmerman that hit rim, bounced five feet up, and then fell through...and Cal fans everywhere took a long, deep breath. Once again, it seemed like there was a lid on the basket as makeable shots came up empty.
Even so, there were early signs of life for the Bear's. The offense looked more confident with assertive ball movement and crisp cuts. On defense, Cal limited the bigger Furds to one and out and did a good job clearing the defensive glass.
But it was still 11:08 before Jorge finally converted his first field goal of the game. Although it was a huge three, there was the distinct sense that he was still pressing. This unease seemed to spread to the team as shots continued to go array. The ensuing flurry of sloppy possessions and turnovers helped Stanford build a six point lead at 21-15 with 7 minutes to play.
In a microcosm of Cal's half, the next few minutes showcased a nice pull-up crossover by Crabbe followed by an open three off the side of the backboard and several turnovers.
The one Bear who provided a steadying influence on both ends was the rock-solid Harper Kamp. As the Furds tried to extend their lead in the final minutes, Kamp drew a charge then grabbed a steal on consecutive possessions. He also showed off good vision with some deft passing in the halfcourt. Even so, it was 30-23 Stanford at the half.
Despite the ugliness on the scoreboard, Cal was actually out-shooting the Furds from the field. Unfortunately, thirteen 1st half turnovers and a 12-4 difference in points off of turnovers were a critical disparity. The effort was there; clearly the Bears were motivated and playing hard. But, a lack of confidence seemed to be infectious and manifested itself by pulling the string on both jumpers and passes alike.
It was with anxiety bordering on nausea that we saw our sturdy Golden Bears take the court for what was perhaps the season-defining 2nd half of basketball. Would we bounce back? Would we finally wake up and find ourselves again?
Cue Coach Monty. Instead of ranting, raving, and breaking out the cattle prod, his halftime instructions were, "go have some fun." Right at the tip, he dialed up a play designed to find the struggling Jorge Gutierrez an open jumper off the curl. Nothing but net. Moments later, a Cal steal led two more Jorge free throws and just like that - the lead was down to 3.
The Jorge we all know and love was back. He drew a charge (not called) on D, then found Kravish for a nifty backdoor layup. After pushing the ball in transition, he found Kravish again and this time was the recipient for a layup and-one. Tie game! Go Bears!
It was a brilliant gamble by Monty. Although he's more comfortable running disciplined half-court sets with precise execution, the tactical decision to open up the reins and push it at every opportunity forced the guys to stop thinking and go back to playing on instinct. With such a short bench and nursing a deficit, this could have backfired horribly into a snowball of disaster. But, our guys responded beautifully.
With renewed energy, the Bears swarmed the Furds on D, crashed the boards, and pushed it in transition. Cobbs found Harper who drew two free throws. Then Harper outfought three Furd bigs to rip down a rebound and the Bears were running again. This time, they found Crabbe spotted up on the wing. Boom! 3-ball! 38-33, Cal!
The Furds battled back with a Randle layup and another space-time continuum-defying three from their caveman. Game on.
As halting and ugly as the first half was, the 2nd half hearkened back to Pac-10 shootouts of old. Each team made difficult shots and seemed to dare the other to blink first and miss. Crabbe alternated between dropping long bombs and hitting soft runners off the curl. Cobbs slashed and wove through traffic. Kravish stepped up big for some clutch free throws. Harper owned the glass and showed off his whole array of post moves. And Jorge was back to his normal frenetic self. The only black mark against the resurgent Bears was a baffling inability to pull away by converting opportunities at the free throw line.
With the game tied at the four minute mark and headed towards a photo finish, it was the Bears that came up with all the clutch ways. They beat the Furds to every loose ball en route to a decisive 8-0 run and a 77-71 victory. Game, set, match, Bears!
We'll worry about the starters' legs and stamina later. (A full preview for tonight's 8:30 pm will post later this morning at 10:30 am) For now, it feels absolutely fantastic to dance amongst the smoldering ashes of the Furd season. If Jorge is permanently back from limbo and the guys can hold on to their rediscovered confidence, we're not outclassed by anyone left in this tourney. Why not just win the whole darn thing?