This was a discouraging loss for the Bears to end their role in the Pac-10 tournament.
Not discouraging because of the loss itself, because few knowledgeable observers gave the Bears much chance to win, but because of the nature of the loss.
Taken as a whole, the Bears were simply not competitive in this game. Whatever the causes, be it the coaching, the players' athleticism, or their basketball IQ, the Bears did not belong on the court today with the Bruins.
A few days ago the Bears narrowly lost a controversial game to UCLA at Pauley Pavilion where referee bad calls contributed to the loss, but the close score was not a good measure of the relative strengths of the two teams.
|AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian
Randle Battling Darren Collison
Two nights before that game the Bruins had won the Pac-10 regular season title in a controversial win over Stanford, so had little to play for in their game against Cal. The Bears played for pride and it was almost enough.
A better measure of the relative strength of these two teams is their Pac-10 regular season records: The Bears finished 6-12 in the conference; the Bruins finished 16-2. That disparity was on display today at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
For a few minutes midway through the first half, the Bears gave their fans some hope. After the Bruins had taken a 12 point lead in the first 6 minutes, the Bears managed to chew away at that lead in the next six to pull within two, largely on the strength of two jams by DeVon Hardin and a deep Anderson three down the centerline of the court.
|AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian
Ironically, the turning point of the game, the moment when the Bruins put the Bear's rally firmly behind them, came right after a stellar defensive stop by the Bears. Cal effectively used double teams, help defense, and aggressive pursuit to deny the Bruins a shot - and got a turnover as the shot clock was closing out when the ball bounced off Josh Shipp's leg to go out of bounds under the hoop.
On the next possession, Nikola Knesevic was fouled, nailed two free throws, and the margin had narrowed to two points.
That was a close as the Bears would get. In the next two minutes the Bruins extended their lead to 12, a margin they would never surrender. Lorenzo Mata-Real keyed the surge with 2 buckets and 2 blocked shots, both of which turned into points for the Bruins. But the details matter little, the crush was on.
For the record, the game opened with a 16-4 run by the Bruins, Cal came back with an 11-3 run, but then the Bruins closed out the half with a 20-8 run. Three phases, maybe, but not a pretty picture. There were no phases in the second half.
|AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian
Josh Shipp vs Harper Kamp
The Bears have on occasion this season come out of the half-time locker room with energy and a plan to get back into a game - but stellar freshman Kevin Love quickly put an end to any Bear hopes this day. He opened with three threes in the first 1½ minutes of the half; the Bears simply had no answer for that, and no defense for it either.
Let's give kudos where they are deserved. Jamal Boykin did his level best to energize his team. He turned in a good line for the afternoon, going 3 of 5 from the field, 2 for 2 from the free-throw line, and 1 for 1 from beyond the arc. His energy was everywhere.
Patrick Christopher played aggressively but was well defended so had a below par game (12 points, 4 rebounds). That will happen. Ryan Anderson had a decent game as he always does (15 points, 7 rebounds, 1 of 4 from deep, 4 of 4 from the line), but it wasn't enough. Eric Vierneisel was solid with some good defense and opportunistic rebounding in 30 minutes of play.
Walk-on David Liss got his third three of the season in 4 minutes during garbage time.
That all said we must also mark the key negatives, starting with 18 turnovers, 6 of them by Jerome Randle. Sloppy passing and lost dribbles killed the Bears. DeVon Hardin scored 10 points, not bad, but was credited with just 2 rebounds in 17 minutes on the floor.
It isn't always about Cal, of course, even though Cal fans tend to see it that way. The Bruins take the court with superior athletes, every one of their starters ended the season on All-Pac-10 lists. They are quick, aggressive, and excellent on-the-ball defenders; all of those characteristics made the Bears look less effective today than usual.
Add to that the Bruins' excellent shooting: they were 53% from the floor and a devastating 56% from beyond the arc. They hit 14 of their 25 treys, the Bears hit just 4 of their 15. The difference between those two? Thirty points.
The Bears now finish the season with a 15-15 record overall that makes them eligible for the NIT Tournament. Given the acknowledged strength of the Pac-10 a berth seems likely. If Cal is invited, the first round of the tournament will occur on March 18th and 19th at various campus locations, and will conclude at Madison Square Garden with semifinals on April 1st and the championship game on April 3rd.
With the Pac-10 season over, and now with the Pac-10 Tournament ended as well (for the Bears), perhaps they can now accept a berth in the NIT, relax, and simply enjoy playing some basketball for the pure joy of it.
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