There's a reason it's called the "home-court advantage."
The game was billed as the "Battle of the Beasts", with the nation's leading rebounder, true freshman Michael Beasley, against the #2 glass-cleaner in the country, DeVon Hardin. Instead, Walker, a medical-redshirt freshman who saw action in just five games last season, outshined Beasley, who notched 19 points of his own. Because of Beasley's inside-scoring threat, Walker was able to consistently slash to the basket and take shots - and, when he missed, he got his own rebound several times and scored on put-backs.
Cal had no answer for Walker, and, despite having faced Missouri's pressure defense and handling it well, they did not respond well to the full-court pressure the Wildcats applied. The question mark this year for Cal is guard play, and Sunday it was the pressure point that Kansas State attacked successfully.
Jerome Randle had a tough afternoon, committing nine turnovers, although some were on purely phantom calls by the officials. One egregious example was on a dribble penetration late in the game, when the trail official, screened off Randle by a reaching-in defender, called Randle for something - exactly what was never made clear - but it was a crucial turnover.
Other situations were nearly as obvious - with the game tied at 62 apiece, 6'-2" Clent Stewart missed a 3-point shot, then went over the top of 6'-10" Ryan Anderson for the rebound, and Anderson was called for the foul. With 1:25 left and the score 73-71, Stewart again missed a shot, got his own rebound and landed with his right foot at least 24" out of bounds, but got no-call. Later in that same possession, Beasley drove, dropped a shoulder into Nikola Knezevic (who was out of position and did commit a foul), then took two steps after the bump and scored a basket that was allowed.
Other oddities in the game included a pair of technical fouls called on Cal - the first of the season - with the one on Randle coming at a critical juncture with KSU leading 79-75 and 17 seconds to play. The two free throws and possession ended any chance the Bears had of completing their comeback.
How lop-sided was the work of Steve Welmer, Curtis Shaw and Rick Hartzell? KSU got to the line 40 times in the game. In their prior six complete games, Cal had seen their opponents go to the line 95 times, an average of just under 16 per game.
|AP Photo/Christopher Hanewinckel
Randle and Kent battle for loose ball
As noted, Cal was called for two technicals, while KSU's complaining players were warned instead. Michael Beasley fumbled a drop pass, took four steps (!) and was credited with the layup. Jacob Pullen, described by the KSU broadcasters as "completely out of control", collided with Patrick Christopher and Christopher was whistled for the foul.
Early foul trouble limited DeVon Hardin to 4 minutes, no points or rebounds, and just a single (but spectacular) block of Beasley in the first half, which ended tied at 38 apiece. Hardin sat out the last 14:53 of the period.
The Bears tried a variety of defenses, several of which worked well - they played man at times, a matchup-zone at times, and a classic 2-3 zone. KSU made their first two, and last two, 3-point attempts - and missed 15 straight in between. Cal again held an opponent under 40% shooting (39.1% overall, 21.1% from 3-point range), while the Bears were 29-58 from the floor (50%) and shot 40% from long distance themselves.
But Cal could only get to the line 11 times, converting nine from the charity stripe. KSU, on the other hand, has struggled at the line all year, losing in overtime to Oregon last week when they clanked three times at the front end of one-and-one opportunities in overtime, yet they shot 70% from the stripe themselves. The 19-point difference in free throws was too much for Cal to overcome, as was the disparity in turnovers (20-15). Most importantly, Cal, who previous to thgis game enjoyed a +10 rebound per game edge, was out-boarded by the Wildcats, 42-32, with Kansas State getting an unbelievable 22 offensive boards to Cal's 8.
|AP Photo/Christopher Hanewinckel
Backing into lane agains KSU Darren Kent
Hardin finished the game with just three rebounds and two blocks to go with his 7 points. Eric Vierneisel, shooting just 12% from the floor coming into play, had a very nice game off the bench, shooting 4-6 overall, 2-4 from downtown, while collecting 11 points, six boards and five assists (and no turnovers). Cal tallied 14 first-half assists on 16 baskets and finished with 22 assists on 29 field goals.
Nikola Knezevic led all players on the floor with six assists in 25 minutes, and hit a ridiculous prayer 3-ball - as the shot clock expired - to start an 8-0 run that brought the Bears back from a 60-52 deficit with 8:45 left to play.
It was a game of runs. KSU jumped to a 10-5 lead in the first four minutes, then Hardin sat down and Harper Kamp keyed a 20-5 run by Cal over then next 7½ minutes. KSU responded with a 12-2 run of their own, tying the game at 27 with 4:36 to play in the half. The second half opened on a 16-8 run by the Wildcats before Cal responded - the teams then traded points until Blake Young hit back-to-back three-balls to give Kansas State the lead they never relinquished.
After the game, Coach Braun would not be drawn into criticizing the referees, despite on-air invitations from broadcasters Todd McKim and Roxy Bernstein, pointing instead to Cal turnovers that were equally critical to the game outcome - and a factor that the Bears can control, unlike the refereeing.
Bernstein was so worked up by the refereeing work, calling it by far the worst he had ever seen as a broadcaster, that he was palpably seething on air after the game. Doing his very best to restrain himself, he finally lost it, and declared, against all odds, that he had finally been driven to the point where he was going to write a letter to the Pac-10. What a move! Go Roxy!
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