Basketball: Cal-Duke post-mortem

Here are links to the stories we will publish in our morning editions:

— My game story on how Duke’s defense completely smothered the Bears.

— A notebook, featuring Patrick Christopher’s tough final game.

Monte Poole’s game column on how Duke left no doubt about the better team.

I have to catch an early flight home, but a few thoughts first on Sunday’s game:

— Mike Montgomery said afterward that if the teams played 10 times, Duke probably would win more than Cal. I’d say that’s an understatement. The Blue Devils are bigger, deeper, stronger, better defensively and at least as skilled. None of it diminishes what Cal achieved this season — its first Pac-10 title in 50 years, reaching the championship game of the conference tournament, and winning a first-round NCAA game for the first time in seven seasons. Not bad.

— I see many of you thought the refs tilted the playing field. I saw a couple calls I thought were clearly wrong, yet the refs had little to do with the game’s outcome. Duke is better. Simple as that.

— If there was a turning point, perhaps it was Patrick Christopher taking the elbow above his left eye. He was gone for seven minutes of playing time, getting four stitches, then had his lowest-scoring game in more than two years with two points. Duke defended him well, but Christopher didn’t seem himself. Shot 1-for-4, and did not attempt even one in the second half.

— That said, even with a sharp Christopher, I don’t see a way Cal beats these guys. Duke is 3 inches taller, on average, at every starting position, and they won despite senior guard Jon Scheyer (1-for-11) having quite likely his worst game of the season. It didn’t even matter.

— Do the Bears need to get bigger? Asbolutely. A year from now, their big men actually could be the strength of the team. I talked with Harper Kamp in the locker room and he cannot wait to get started. Figure him to be a leader and a productive player for the 2010-11 Bears. Max Zhang will be better, Markhuri Sanders-Frison hopes to clear up his back problems and get into better shape, Bak Bak is taking care of his academics (according to Kamp) and incoming freshman Richard Solomon (who needs strength and bulk) will provide some athleticism up front. And you can bet that finding a true big man will be the coaching staff’s top priority this summer.

— I have declined until now to comment on Internet rumors that Max Zhang might be leaving to join the Chinese National Team. Well, I talked to him afterward and he said, “I will be back.” He noted that he has commented on several occasions that he’d someday love to play for his national team, but that there is no year-round program to be a part of in any case. But he will be at Cal next season, and if he improves as much as he did from a year ago, that’s good news.

— For anyone still wondering, Omondi Amoke WAS NOT in Jacksonville this weekend. Again, we decline to offer speculation on what he did to get himself indefinitely suspended — there is plenty of that online if that’s your preference. We may not always have every bit if information you’d like (although we will try), but we will not publish unsubstantiated rumors. They may be right sometimes, but often they’ll be wrong.

— Biggest question mark for next season’s team: Who plays point guard? My guess is junior-to-be Jorge Gutierrez gets the first shot, although I wonder if Mike Montgomery might prefer someone else — Brandon Smith or incoming freshman Gary Franklin Jr. — earn the job so Gutierrez can remain primarily off the ball. Point guard requires a lot of energy that Gutierrez could use on the defensive end of the floor.

— Cal’s five seniors all conducted themselves with class in the dressing room afterward. They were disappointed, but proud of what they achieved this season. For those who like the numbers, Jerome Randle (1,835 points), Patrick Christopher (1,700 points), Theo Robertson (1,318 points) and Jamal Boykin (929 points) finished their Cal careers with a combined total of 5,782 points. I’m guessing the Bears will miss them a bit.

I’ll have more after I get home — well, after I sleep — including a look ahead at what we can expect in 2010-11.

Jeff Faraudo