FINAL SCORE: UCLA 72, Cal 68. Hi all, many apologies. The wireless system at Haas Pavilion crashed over and over tonight and I had no chance to return to this until now. Obviously, you all know what happened. So here are a few postgame observations and tidbits:
– The Bruins (22-7, 11-5) take over sole possession of second place, a game-and-a-half behind Washington (22-7, 13-4), which clinched no worse than a tie for the title with its win over Arizona.
– Cal (21-8, 10-6) drops into a tie for third place with Arizona State, which lost at Washington State.
– The Bears play Thursday at Arizona, then Saturday at ASU. Mathematically, they can still climb to as high as a No. 2 seed for the Pac-10 tournament, and the way I figure it, they cannot realistically drop any lower than a No. 4 seed. Even if they finish in a tie for fourth with Arizona at 10-8, the Bears would win the tiebreaker because the two teams split, and Cal swept first-place Washington. The only exception would be if Cal finished in a tie for fourth with Oregon State (which swept Cal), but that can only happpen if the Beavers win at UCLA and at USC. Unlikely.
– Best game atmosphere of the season . . . maybe in a couple years. The Bears’ first sellout of the Mike Montgomery era, and he said afterward he hopes it becomes a more regular thing, but added the program has to earn this kind of response.
– The difference in the game, besides the seven-point play late in the first half, was UCLA’s poise and experience down the stretch. Particularly point guard Darren Collison, who looked every bit a player who’s been to three straight Final Fours. He scored 11 of his 22 points in the final 8 minutes, including two terrific baskets in the final minute-and-a-half. Montgomery and Jerome Randle both had high praise for Collison.
– Montgomery had no complaint with the intentional foul call that led to UCLA’s seven-point play, but admitted it was tough to overcome and changed momentum. Aside from that play and 12 turnovers, Cal clearly outplayed the Bruins in the first half. But the Bears’ lead should have been bigger, and because the Bruins stayed close, they gave themselves the chance to take advantage later.
– Monty was pleased with the performance of Randle, who had 20 points and eight assists. Patrick Christopher added 16 points and Theo Robertson scored 14, 12 of them in the second half.
– This was a tough defeat for the Bears to swallow, but they played pretty well against a team that knows how to win big games.
– UCLA coach Ben Howland praised Cal afterward, saying he is convinced the Bears are an NCAA Tournament team that no one would want to face in the first round.