Dribbles & Bits: "Big Three" Come Through!

In the highly-anticipated return of former coach Mike Montgomery to Maples Pavilion, Johnny Dawkins' veteran Stanford squad shrugged off a wasted weekend in the state of Washington and rebounded to play outstanding basketball against the 22nd-ranked Bears, coming away with a crowd-pleasing win in the 252nd edition of the Bay Area programs' longstanding hoops rivalry.

Dribbles & Bits: Big Three Come Through! 

75-69. The Cardinal holds serve at home against the 22nd-ranked Golden Bears! To call this one "satisfying" would have to be regarded as a mild understatement. For this one night, the Maples Magic™ was back, the Sixth Man Club rallied the alumni crowd, and our old pal Mike Montgomery was reminded why beating Stanford at home remains a formidable challenge.  It felt especially good because for the first time in ages, most Berkeley fans came in expecting to win. In sports rivalries, raining on someone else's parade is big fun. A year ago, then #9-ranked Stanford had denied the Bears that pleasure, winning a close game, eventually by ten, 79-69. This year's contest with Cal was definitely fun, especially since it came during a celebration of the Bears' 100th season of basketball. 

Stanford has been the stronger program for most of the past decade-plus, but this time the fame was presumably on the other foot as Cal came in 15-2, 4-0 in conference and had already learned that ASU had upset UCLA in a comeback from 11 down. The table was set for an assumption of sole possession of first place. But we all know what happens when you assume..... 

A hard-fought, but very clean first half saw Stanford come away with a 35-32 advantage, with both teams shooting well at >50%. Neither team got to the line in the first half, which is quite the rarity. The second half would be a very different story as the Cardinal would shoot 17 free throws to Cal's three. Mike Montgomery would later concede that the aggressor usually gets the majority of the calls and shook his head in reflection, but did not go as far as to blame the referees.   

We all wondered whether Cal would sport a different look and feel and indeed, one could immediately see the difference in the Bears, who seemed to play fundamentally sound basketball in the early going, repeatedly working the ball to an open man and logging 12 assists in the first half (compared to Stanford's 13 for the entire game).

A few notes and observations:

  • Nice welcome and few boos for Mike Montgomery in his return to Maples. He said a nice hello to every coach, broadcasters and ball-boy, waved to some fans - couldn't have asked for better sportsmanship. The fans knew to appreciate their one-time favorite, but were anxious to see him come away empty-handed this time. Mike's lovely wife Sarah and charming daughter Annie were all smiles and hugs with Stanford friends after the game. (Note that Mike's son John is Cal's Director of Basketball Operations, which must be nice for the family). There were even a few long-time Stanford Basketball supporters temporarily donning Cal hats in support of Mike - we will let that slide just this once.
  • Very nice to get a "W" for Coach Dawkins in his first battle with a Cardinal coaching legend and start building his own lasting legacy at Stanford. 
  • With 6'8" 230-pound junior Jamal Boykin doing his best imitation of Leon Powe (a "Powe-Man's Leon" perhaps?), Cal produced 26 points in the paint to Stanford's 10 in the first half, but the Cardinal turned that around and bested the Bears 14-8 in the second stanza. [Note: The spirited Boykin surprised me in the post-game session with his calm and articulate demeanor.]
  • Is Cal different under Montgomery? Put it this way - there were all of two "fast break" points by each team...for the entire game! None in the second half!
  • 25 points by re-surfacing senior Lawrence Hill (on 11-15 shooting and 2-2 from downtown) was a career high. Cal had no answer when "Law" was left in isolation and left to back his way in close for a high-percentage shot. Monty's teams traditionally don't like to double-team and thus this was a night for Hill to work his way into the paint, which he did time and again with frequent success. Are we seeing a return to All-Conference honors for Hill? Lot of season to go, but it sure looks that way.
  • In the second half, the "Big Three" veteran seniors (Hill, Goods, and Johnson) contributed 33 of Stanford's 40 points. Not sure how good that makes us feel about 2009-10, but for now it was terrific!
  • Anthony Goods took  the initiative early was very aggressive driving the ball inside and to me looked like the quickest man on the court.
  • On that subject, it was nice for once to look out on the court and see that we were not the "least-athletic" team on the floor.
  • Landry Fields quietly had a very nice game with 15 points, five boards, two blocks and some terrific defense.
  • Who would have bet on eight rebounds from true freshman guard Jeremy Green? Green also buried a key three-pointer with 7:55 left to give the Cardinal a 54-53 lead!
  • Where was Cal's outstanding scorer Patrick Christopher? (9 points, 3 assists, 3 TOs). The honorable mention all-PAc-10 guard was well-neutralized by Anthony Goods, who said he may have benefitted from knowing his opponent so well, aware of the need to get into the lanes to deny Christopher the ball.
  • Cal's young whirling dervish Jorge Gutierrez, originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, may need to work on his handle (and lose the pony-tail), but the kid has energy and will be tough to deal with by the time his playing days are over. At least he doesn't fake being fouled and roll around whining like a Latin American soccer player. 
  • In the second half the Bears got away from what was working for them, no longer working the ball in to Boykin and jacking up 13 threes (making just three).
  • The Sixth Man Club finally showed signs of life. When the Cardinal took a five-point lead with 4:58 left, the old reliable "GO...STANFORD" chant appropriately went to "11" on the knob. When a Goods three bounced up high off the rim and dropped down, the crowd roared.
  • Cal was only in this at the end because the Cardinal went just 9-17 in the second half from the charity stripe. But hey, that was better than getting to the line three times the entire game as Cal did.
  • In the post-game press room, Monty was his usual straightforward, gracious, articulate self, giving due credit to Johnny D. and the Cardinal, but expressing his disappointment with his own team's failure to execute and mentioning his pre-game concern that his team had experienced a poor week of practice. Why a poor week? "Kids are kids". Monty went out of his way to clarify that that possible explanation for his team's underwhelming play should not take away from Stanford's win, which came he said because the Cardinal was the clear aggressor. He stressed that people have underrated Stanford and its veteran seniors.  He was even able to crack a joke, saying the Stanford folks were great to him and that when he went over to Jimmy V's for coffee, he didn't have to pay - so things seemed the same.
  • Getting this "W" doesn't make it any "easier" to get into the NCAA tournament, but it makes it "less difficult". Does that make sense?
  • Cal freshman Zhaoxu "Max" Zhang looks all of his 7'3" and better take his strength and conditioning advice from someone other than fourth-year junior 7'0" Jordy Wilkes, who still .  
  • We knew it was our night when my wife Cindi caught one of the Red Zone t-shirts thrown by a Stanford Football player at half time - using her extended hands, not catching it against her chest, which really made me proud!
  • General comment: It bugs me that Cal has Montgomery and Tedford, two excellent coaches who are hard to root that hard against. We prefer the glory days of Keith Gilbertson and Todd Bozeman!
  • How does that Beatles song go? "The Tree with kaleidascope eyes". 
  • Not related to last night's game, but the Oregon Ducks are off to an 0-6 start in conference and things aren't looking so hot for former Montgomery assistant Ernie Kent....again.


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