On January 16 in Seattle, the California Golden Bears missed a major stepping-stone when the Washington Huskies, 84-69, destroyed them. A game, guard Jerome Randle shot a weak 2-9 from the field scoring five points, while committing eight turnovers.
After the game, Randle immediately looked at the schedule and circled February 11 on the calendar. For Randle and the Bears, the rematch against Washington would be about revenge.
In the rematch, the Bears got exactly what they wanted.
Behind a 33-point outburst from Randle and a dominant inside presence from forward Jamal Boykin, the Bears used runs of 15-3 and 15-2 in the first half to take a commanding 48-34 halftime lead, culminating in a 93-81 California victory in front of 9,839 at Haas Pavilion.
The victory kept California in sole possession of first place in the Pac-10, and 2 games ahead of last year's regular season champion Huskies.
But for Randle, the game meant so much more.
"I had this game on my schedule," said Randle. "I just wanted to lead my team and be aggressive."
In a matchup between two of the conference's more explosive point guards (Washington guard Isaiah Thomas being the other), Randle stepped up, hitting 8-of-12 shots in the first half.
An early 3 by Randle set the tone for the rest of the game. A couple of driving buckets while being fouled fended off any Washington rally. A beautiful alley-oop to Patrick Christopher put the icing on the cake.
Despite foul trouble from guard Patrick Christopher and undersized Theo Robertson playing the power forward position, the Bears had no trouble scoring on the Washington defense, mainly due to Randle's aggressive play.
"Jerome shot the ball extremely well," Cal head coach Mike Montgomery said. "He's a good player and he takes a lot of pride in his game."
"That was a huge lift for us."
The victory gives the Bears control of the conference race. Of the six remaining games left on the schedule, only two games are outside of the Bay Area (at ninth place Oregon State and at 10th place Oregon). The two other teams posing an immediate threat to California – Arizona and Arizona State – have to come to Berkeley.
But don't try convincing Randle.
"Hopefully we can keep it going. I smell a championship but there are a lot of other things we have to do," Randle said. "I'm excited about it but you just can't get too excited because, as you can see, this Pac-10 is kind of crazy."
So with this victory winding down, the Bears focus is not on trying to win their first conference championship since 1960. Instead, Jamal Boykin said it best when asked where the team shifts its attention to: Washington State.
After all, it's just one stepping stone in reaching the ultimate goal.
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