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February 25, 2010BERKELEY-Ask and ye shall receive. Two days ago, Cal head coach Mike Montgomery wrote an open letter to Cal fans, asking them to pack Haas Pavilion for the nationally-televised game against Arizona on Thursday night. And they came in droves.
The stacked-to-the-rafters crowd of 10,545 at Haas Pavilion saw the Bears sprint out to an early 41-17 lead, and then never look back, as they crushed the visiting Wildcats to the tune of 95-71, their largest margin of victory over Arizona since a 99-75 win on Jan. 4, 1996.
The only hiccup really for the Bears was their play towards the end of the first half, when they allowed Arizona to close the stanza on a 14-2 run.
With sophomore Jorge Gutierrez on the bench to start the second half and sitting on two fouls, Cal needed to find some source of energy to recapture the momentum from the early part of the first half. That sparkplug was Jerome Randle, who drained 4-of-5 from beyond the arc within the first 7:21 of the second period and stretched the Bears' lead back to 23 points.
"Those threes, bang-bang-bang-bang, that makes us very difficult to defend," said Montgomery. "When the ball goes down ad he's getting open shots and he's just feeling it, it's pretty much going to go down."
Randle was quiet in the first half, scoring just seven points. However, as Montgomery was quick to point out, scoring is just one part of his star guard's game. Randle had three assists and two steals in the first half, distributing the ball to fellow seniors Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher, who scored a combined 23 points before halftime.
"The first part of the game, he was really moving the ball. The ball was finding the guys, snapping to shooters, Patrick was open, getting shots, Theo was open, getting shots, and that is part of (Randle's) job," Montgomery said. "Then, maybe they make an adjustment and say, 'Gosh, we've got to help here, we've got to go there,' and then Jerome started getting open. So, it's kind of a matter of time for those guys as to when they're going to get opportunities."
Robertson finished the game with 18 points and four assists, while Christopher finished with 14 points and seven boards while shooting 2-of-3 from beyond the arc.
After the break, Randle got in on the offensive feast, netting 19 of his game-high 24 points and leading the charge as the Bears built up an insurmountable lead.
"I was just cutting and they lost me a couple of times and I was able to get an open shot," Randle said. "A lot of times, when I'm playing against these teams, they try to force me to drive into the trap. When I cut through, and then try to cut back up to the top, I usually can get open shots."
Another of Randle's duties was defending Arizona senior guard Nic Wise, who burned Cal for 30 points a month ago in Tucson.
"I told Jamal (Boykin) that instead of running behind the big man and setting the screen, you need to be on his hip, and let Wise see you," Randle said. "It'd be easier for me to get around the screen and contain him a little bit, and we did a great job. Jamal, I give him a lot of credit for the way we shut down Wise tonight."
In the first half, Wise was held to just one point, and went 0-for-4 from the floor. In the second half, Wise was held to just six points, with the Bears contesting every one of his shots, clogging his passing lanes and limiting the dangerous guard's options off the pick-and-roll. Unable to split through the defense like he had last time out, Wise kicked out to his open teammates, but they, too were heavily defended.
"I think, as a part of our game plan, with guarding Wise, we wanted to load up in the paint and make sure that he saw not only the guy guarding the screener, but a couple of bodies in the lane too to discourage the pass to the roller, as well as his penetration," said Robertson.
The game was very much a sprint from beginning to end, with very little time for Arizona to stop and collect itself. The Bears scored 20 points off of turnovers, and 16 off of fast breaks, knocking the Wildcats back on their heels early on.
"We've got something to play for. I thought the kids did a really good job of knowing this was important. We executed very well," Montgomery said. "We had 19 assists versus 11 turnovers, which for us is pretty good stuff. The ball was moving. Obviously we've got some guys that can shoot the ball when the ball moves. I felt like the game plan was solid. We made some adjustments. Nic Wise killed us last time, and I thought we did a better job on pick-and-rolls, as far as controlling him."
That "something" that Montgomery referred to was the possibility of wrapping up Cal's first conference title in 50 years, something of a mission for the five-man senior class which accounted for 81 of the Bears' points on the evening.
"It's a great feeling. I'm feeling it, and I'm pretty sure that everybody else feels what we can do within the next couple of days," Randle said. "We just have to go out and really just put it all out there and play hard."
Chairmen of the Boards
Cal was a force inside, racking up 34 total rebounds-25 of them defensive-and tallying eight second chance points off of nine offensive rebounds.
"I think we had a lot of guys in a help side situation tonight," Robertson said. "That put them in a pretty good position to get box-outs and rebounds.
Boy, oh, Boykin
Senior Jamal Boykin had himself quite a night, pulling down 10 boards and scoring 20 points for his sixth double-double of the season. He also played a crucial role in containing Wise.
"We talked about how we were going to try and defend ball screens, and how important it was," Montgomery said of Boykin's effort on defense. "We gave up a couple other things that hurt us a little bit coming off the pick-and-rolls, but Wise had seven, versus 30, so that's huge."
Player of the Year?
While many in the media have tabbed Randle as a favorite for the Pac-10 Player of the Year award, Randle isn't looking so far ahead. For the face of this senior class, there is just one goal.
"It'd be a great accomplishment, but right now I'm just focused on bringing this championship to Berkeley," Randle said. "That's the only thing on my mind."
Randle's 24-point performance was his 14th 20-point game of the season.