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February 13, 2010

Bears Play Comeback Kids Against Cougs

BERKELEY-For the Cal basketball team, it wasn't the first 20 minutes against Washington State that mattered. It was just the final four. After falling behind by 11 at halftime, the Bears came roaring back and went on a 15-0 run in the closing minutes to come away with an 86-70 win this afternoon at Haas Pavilion in front of 9,536.

In a stark contrast to Thursday night, Cal (17-8, 9-4 in the Pac-10) was far from dominant on the first half of Saturday's contest against the Cougars (15-10, 5-8). In fact, when the team went into the locker room at the half, they had allowed 45 points and were down by 11.

"These guys are kids, and I didn't spend a lot of time talking about the fact that there's a natural assumption that goes across the board that Washington's better, and we beat them, and here comes Washington State and we already beat them, so i.e. (we'll beat Washington State," head coach Mike Montgomery said. "That 'i.e.' just doesn't compute. You have to compete, and it's always what happens. When we get back on our heels, we're just not very aggressive offensively or defensively."

When Cal came out to warm up, senior point guard Jerome Randle had a little something of his own to say.

"The message was that this is our championship on the line," Randle said. "We came out a little sluggish, and I just wanted everyone to know that if we come out the same as we did in the first half, we're going to lose this game."

And come back they did. On the first play coming out from the break, senior forward Jamal Boykin drove to the baseline for a lay-up, sparking more aggressive play by the entire team. On the afternoon, Boykin checked in with 18 points and a game-high 11 boards.

"I think it was contagious to see that it worked," senior guard Patrick Christopher said of Boykin's drive. "We got to the line more consistently in the second half, so that's what we need to key in and do. We shoot the ball great, but when it's not falling, and when the other team is scoring a lot, we do need to be more aggressive at attacking the basket."

The Bears upped the intensity in transition, coming away with seven steals in the second stanza to the Cougars' two and diving after loose balls with reckless abandon.

"It just goes back to getting after the ball a little bit," Montgomery said. "I really just felt like in the first half, every loose ball went their way. There'd be a ball that would drop and we'd go running back like we wanted to go play offense and nobody would go get the ball.

"The second half, we did get after the ball a little bit, got some steals and got out on the break."

The biggest thief was sophomore guard Jorge Gutierrez, who swiped four balls on the afternoon and showed a propensity for clogging the passing lanes.

"I think it was just that we were playing defense as a team," Gutierrez said. "I think that helps a lot. Looking at the court, there has to be somebody open, and I see that, and I know that they're going to pass it to them. So, I just go for the ball."

Gutierrez provided a spark in the starting lineup for the second straight game, a spark not unnoticed by his teammates, leading Christopher to say of Gutierrez, "He's my hero," as he draped his arm around the sophomore's shoulders in the post-game press conference.

"This is what he does every day, every time in practice and in a game," Randle said. "We weren't expecting anything different than that. He's a tough competitor and he changes the game every time he's out there on the floor."

Just one of Gutierrez's steals came in the first half, when the Cougars dominated the transition game, leaving shooting sensation Klay Thompson wide open on the perimeter.

Thompson shot 8-of-11 from the floor, and went a largely-unchallenged 5-for-5 from three-point range, leading all scorers with 23 points going into the break.

"I think he got going early on, I think he made his first shot, but it was almost as if nobody was guarding him," Christopher said. "He was getting it in transition and just had uncontested shots. With a shooter like that, you have to contest all of his shots, or else he'll do what he did in the first half, because he's a tremendous scorer."

Once the second half started, however, the Bears keyed in on Thompson and took away all of his open looks on the outside, forcing him into the teeth of the defense down low.

"I think that once we were able to key in on him, locate him and chase him off those screens, and show that we were available coming off those screens, we did a tougher job of containing him," Christopher said.

As the defense clamped down on Thompson, he went dormant, and recorded no points in the final 12:50 of the game, leaving Cal shooters to close the gap. After firing 41.9% from the field before halftime, the Bears clutched up and shot 17-of-29 (58.6%) in the second, while the Cougars shot just 37%. The shooting deficit began to catch up to Washington State, and the Bears finally took the lead for good with just over four minutes remaining.

Cal led by a single point after a layup by Washington State's Nikola Koprivica made the score 71-70 with 4:03 left, then went on to run off a torrid 15-0 stretch to come away with the win.

In the first half, Cal came out flat and was wary of driving through the lane and being as physical as the Bears had been against Washington just two nights before. That resulted in more foul calls going the Cougars' way. Before halftime, Cal had gone to the line just twice, missing both shots, while Washington State shot 5-of-6 from the charity stripe.

In the second, the Bears reached the line 22 times, and shot 72.7%, while the Cougars got to the line seven times, hitting just four shots.

"It was one of those deals where even if you look at the officiating, the calls went their way because we were not aggressive," Montgomery said. "We were reaching rather than getting where we were supposed to get."


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