But as excited as the crowd was, California coach Mike Montgomery's own level of optimism steadily increased beyond that due to the play of Jr. point guard Jerome Randle. Randle, who lead the Bears with 20 points on 6-for-10 shooting, brought a level of intensity and control to the Bears' offense, particularly when facing North Carolina A&T's full court press. It was Randle's play, which ultimately further upped the lead against an overwhelmed Aggies' defense.
Randle connected on two three-point shots nine minutes into the first half to capitalize a 10-2 run, giving the Bears a 17-9 lead which they would only build upon. Late in the half, Randle connected on another three-point shot while being fouled, setting up what would ultimately be a four-point play to give the Bears a 38-19 lead. Randle's defense was simply tenacious. Randle held Aggies' guard Tavarus Alston, averaging 11.3 points per game this season, to a mere two points on 1-for-7 shooting. Along with an additional two steals, Randle's defensive effort was more than solid on the basketball court.
"Our effort today was great," Randle stated. "Coach [Montgomery] made a comment about our defense and said we are doing a great job, so we plan on just keeping that up."
But even with his outstanding performance tonight, coach Montgomery made it clear that Randle still has areas in which he can improve upon.
"Jerome's doing a nice job," Montgomery said. "Though he had one play I didn't like and I think it's important that he understands that."
That play Montgomery was referring to was an easy breakaway layup in which Randle instead decided to hold back and lob an ill-advised alley-oop to Patrick Christopher. On that possession, Randle's pass was off-target, and the Bears wound up with no points on that possession.
"You know, we tend to like the pastry when we have got to stick with meat and potatoes," Montgomery rehashed with a stern look on his face.
"If we're going to be as good as we're capable of, we've got to be a solid basketball team for 40 minutes."
Nonetheless, Montgomery still praised Randle for his overall play.
"Jerome is playing extremely well. Jerome is a very good player. He's trying very hard to do everything that we've asked him to do. And, as I told him, I said, ‘Jerome, I'm going to yell at you. But it is one mistake after all…just learn from it. I need you to be as good as you can be, and that could be pretty good."
After his performance on Monday night, Randle is shooting a mind-blowing 66.7% from the field. While it is highly unlikely Randle can keep that percentage up for the rest of the season, it does create belief that he can be one of the top all-around point guards in the Pac-10… as long he sticks to the meat and potatoes.
©Copyright 2008, CalSportsDigest.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.