Let’s face it, this is a new experience for the Golden Bears: They are playing this weekend for a Pac-10 championship.
The one that has eluded Cal for nearly 50 years.
Will they be nervous? Tight? Anxious?
“I don’t think so,” Theo Robertson said. “It’s just basketball. All the other stuff that comes with these games is something we’ve worked for. I don’t know why we should be afraid of it.”
Added Jerome Randle: “I don’t understand how anyone can get nervous. The crowd doesn’t bother me. I’ve been playing basketball so long.”
Jamal Boykin said he’s more than OK with playing in front of a national TV audience.
“I love playing on ESPN. You get a sense the whole world is watching,” he said, “Everyone gets very excited to play on ESPN.”
The fact is, this isn’t a do-or-die night for the Bears. They could could lose tonight against Arizona and still win the conference crown. And they could sweep the Wildcats and Saturday afternoon’s matchup with second-place Arizona State and still not clinch the conference title outright.
In order to close the deal this weekend, they also would need help in the form of an ASU loss at Stanford tonight, plus a USC defeat to either Oregon or Oregon State.
But 50 years? That’s a lot of very patient Old Blues.
Coach Mike Montgomery doesn’t believe he needs to overstate the importance of these games.
“There’s a lot riding on it. You address it, but it doesn’t become the overriding thing,” he said. “We’ll try to talk about us, what we need to do and how we need to play.”
And then just play.
“This is exactly what you play for,” Boykin said.
ARIZONA SCOUT: Wildcats senior PG Nic Wise shredded Cal for 30 points in the teams’ first meeting, and the Bears understand they must not allow him to dominate again. “He did a great job,” Montgomery said. “We didn’t handle the pick and rolls very well. We’re going to have to contain him. You can’t let anybody get big numbers against you.”
Cal also needs to control forward Derrick Williams, who looks like the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. Williams is on pace to become just the third freshman to lead UA in scoring in 31 seasons in the Pac-10, and the first to top them in rebounding since 1979-80. “He’s got a real good sense of where he is,” Montgomery said. “He finishes around the basket. He’s not an overly big center, but he’s really good around the basket. He can face you up and drive by you, he does a real good job off pick and rolls, and they do a good job of finding him and making sure he gets touches in the low post.”
Still, Arizona has lost four of its past five games, allowing an average of 73.8 points in the defeats. The Wildcats are 3-6 on the road this season and, barring a run through the Pac-10 tournament, will see their 25-year streak in the NCAA Tournament end.
MILLER ON RANDLE: “Jerome Randle is one of my favorite players in the Pac-10. I love watching him play from an offensive perspective. I don’t know if there’s many guards who bring to the table what he does for Cal. His shooting percentage is remarkable when you look at what he’s shot from 3 throughout his career and this year what he shoots from the foul line, what he can shoot from inside the arc for such a small player, and the way he makes his players better. He is a really a special player.” – Arizona coach Sean Miller.
THE SERIES: Arizona leads the all-time series 52-27. Cal won both games a year ago to snap a four-game losing streak to the Wildcats.
LAST TIME: Arizona beat the Bears 76-72 in Tucson last month, one of three Pac-10 defeats suffered by Cal in which it held the lead in the final 2 minutes. Senior PG Nic Wise had a season-high 30 points for Arizona and freshman Derrick Williams had 15 points and 11 rebounds. Theo Robertson scored a career-high 27 points for Cal, and Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher each scored 15. But those two combined to shoot 10-for-33, including 3-for-15 from 3-PT distance.
MISCELLANY: Arizona (.742) and Cal (.739) rank 1-2 in the Pac-10 in free-throw accuracy . . . Jerome Randle’s next assist moves him ahead of Jason Kidd (494) for sole possession of third on Cal’s career list . . . With 1,702 career points, Randle is second all-time at Cal, tied for 15th all-time among Division I Bay Area players and 46th in Pac-10 history . . . Cal is 13-1 at home . . . The Bears’ five seniors enter their final regular-season home games having totaled 5,475 career points at Cal.
TIPOFF: 6 p.m.
WHERE: Haas Pavilion, Berkeley.
CAL (18-9, 10-5)
Starters Ht Yr Pts Rebs
SF Theo Robertson 6-6 Sr. 13.9 4.7
PF Jamal Boykin 6-8 Sr. 11.2 6.5
SF Omondi Amoke 6-7 So. 4.7 4.7
SG Patrick Christopher 6-5 Sr. 15.9 5.4
PG Jerome Randle 5-8 Sr. 19.2 4.4*
G Jorge Gutierrez 6-3 So. 5.7 3.3
C Markhuri Sanders-Frison 6-7 Jr. 3.4 3.3
G Nikola Knezevic 6-3 Sr. 2.0 0.4
Arizona (13-13, 7-7)
Starters Ht Yr Pts Rebs
PF Derrick Williams 6-8 Fr. 15.4 6.8
SF Jamelle Horne 6-7 Jr. 10.0 5.8
SF Solomon Hill 6-6 Fr. 6.5 4.3
SG Kyle Fogg 6-3 So. 10.5 3.0
PG Nic Wise 5-10 Sr. 15.2 3.4*
G MoMo Jones 5-10 Fr. 5.8 1.6
G Brendan Lavender 6-5 So. 3.0 1.1
* – Assists