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March 6, 2011BERKELEY -- In the regular season finale, the Cal basketball team came out strong and stayed consistent for the entire 40 minutes against rival Stanford, leading by as many as 28 points on Saturday before finally putting the Cardinal away, 74-55.
"I think 17 (wins overall) and 10 (in conference) is fabulous," said Bears skipper Mike Montgomery, who saw his team win its last four games of the season en route to tying with USC for fourth place in the Pac-10. "There was a time when things were happening to us -- we had probably four guys who we expected to have that we don't have (D.J. Seeley, Omondo Amoke, Max Zhang and Gary Franklin) -- and I don't know if we ever would have gotten to this starting lineup if we had those guys. Thank God I guess we did! We've got pretty good chemistry with this group."
Cal (17-13, 10-8 in the Pac-10) avenged the Jan. 2 conference-opening loss to Stanford (15-15, 7-11) in a big way and built much-needed momentum towards next weekend's Pac-10 Tournament, with three Bears scoring in double figures.
"They out-played us tonight, they really did," said Cardinal head coach Johnny Dawkins. "You can go down the line. I think they played with a lot of energy, they executed very well offensively, and I thought they defended at a high level."
The Bears' high-scoring trio was led by a game-high 24 points from the leading candidate for Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Allen Crabbe.
"We talked about (that loss) a lot this week," said junior power forward Harper Kamp, who scored 20 points and pulled down five boards. "We were pretty sour about that loss, looking at film and things like that. Being our first (conference) game, I think we were just upset that we weren't prepared for that intensity at the Pac-10 level and we got burned for it. We were upset about it and we wanted to come out tonight and change that."
And change they did. Cal opened up against Stanford by playing man defense, and remained in man throughout most of the night.
"I think the last few times that we've done it, it's just been for our own sake, to keep us aggressive and to just do the best we can to get after them and jump on them quick," Kamp said.
That defense stifled the Stanford shooters and locked down guard Jeremy Green, who scored 14 of his 19 points before the half.
"They had been playing man a little more, recently," said Dawkins. "They played man versus UCLA, so we had prepared for both man and zone."
Green was the only Cardinal player to score in double figures after scoring a game-high 21 last time out against the Bears. On Saturday night, Green was frustrated by junior guard Jorge Gutierrez, who swiped a game-high four steals while scoring eight points and dishing out a game-high seven assists in 36 minutes.
The rest of Stanford's starters -- Josh Owens, Dwight Powell, Anthony Brown and Jarrett Mann -- each scored four points.
"Stanford's got a good lineup. Brown can shoot. I guess Bright got hurt, but I don't know what happened there. Obviously, Green can shoot and Powell really hurt us last time, Owens is a terrific athlete," Montgomery said. "I thought, by and large, we did a pretty good job. If you look at the four starters, there were four of them with four points. Even Green, I thought Jorge did a terrific job on Green the first half. He had 14, but I would say eight of those were points where they rebounded it and we lost him and they kicked out and he shot it in. He made a couple of really nice baseline drives and pulled up where we should have had a post guy out, but he's a really good player.
"I thought Jorge did a terrific job on him, and, more than anything, I think what happens is, you wear people down a little bit. They lose their confidence in their ability to go to a certain guy, and it starts to wear on you a little bit. I thought our guys were pretty persistent, in terms of defense. We took a couple charges, which we haven't been great at doing. I thought the loose ball was the X-factor, and kids came to play."
The Bears put together eight steals on the night, while the Cardinal only swiped three. Cal turned the ball over 16 times to Stanford's 15, but doubled up the Cardinal's eight team assists with 16 of their own.
"We decided that we wanted to play Stanford in man because it's made us a little more aggressive," Montgomery said. "I don't know if they were surprised with that at all -- we've been pretty much a zone team -- but we decided that we wanted to come out and be the aggressor, as compared to letting them get after us, and that worked for us. We were fired up."
The Bears came out on fire from word one in the first half, out-scoring the Cardinal 10-2 in the first 4:47. Right off the tip, sophomore point guard Brandon Smith came up with his first of three steals on the night from Mann, pushed the ball up court to Gutierrez, who got the ball inside to Kamp, then outside to Sanders-Frison just past the free-throw line for an easy bucket.
"Brandon's a tough little sucker, I'll give him that," Montgomery laughed. "He doesn't back off very much. He had four fouls (at the end), and I was trying to get him to ease up a little bit because we kind of wanted him on the floor. He's tough, he's strong and he was having to handle the pressure all the time out there.
"The one thing about Brandon is that he's not that point guard who's going to break you down in the paint, but when he can't get where he wants, he doesn't panic. He'll just back it out and try to find somebody. That makes everybody else's job easier on our team."
Stanford's next possession saw Cal force the Cardinal to chew up nearly the entire shot clock before Brown fired a desperation two that did not fall.
The Bears then went on yet another run, outscoring Stanford 9-2 before the Cardinal got closer with two free throws from Green to make the score 23-10 with 7:07 left in the half. Over a 3:50 span early in the first half, true freshman Richard Solomon hammered home three consecutive dunks to further help dampen Stanford's morale.
Solomon accounted for all of the Bears' bench scoring with those six points, and added three boards and an assist in 17 minutes on the floor. Solomon has come into his own during Cal's four-game winning streak, averaging six points and 4.5 boards while playing an average of 14.5 minutes. This season, Solomon is averaging a point every 2.7 minutes he's on the floor. The last time Solomon faced the Cardinal, he accounted for just two points and two boards in 12 minutes.
"We've changed a lot since then," said Kamp. "Everyone's accepted their roles and embraced them. Young guys like Allen have gotten real comfortable, and Rich has come along these last few games, especially. He's had some streaks where he's really helping us out, and right now, he's doing that. It's comforting to know that you've got someone like that who's able to come in and do some of the things that he does. He can continue to get better."
Stanford reeled the Bears in during the early goings of the second half. After a deep three from Smith fell short, Sanders-Frison battled down low for the board and got the ball out to Gutierrez. Gutierrez then fed the ball back in to Sanders-Frison, who dished the ball out to Crabbe on the wing. Crabbe found Smith on the right side, and as Smith dribbled, Kamp crept in under the hoop. Smith fired the ball in to the double-teamed forward, who tried to get it back out to his point guard, but the ball trickled out of bounds.
On the ensuing Cardinal possession, Brown cut the lead to eight with a mid-range jumper.
"It was a key moment for us," Dawkins said. "We had cut it to single-digits, and I think they had an offensive put-back to go on a 14-0 run at that time, and that was very difficult for us. Our kids, I thought, were working hard, trying to make plays, and unfortunately, it just didn't work out."
A three by Crabbe -- Cal's only trey of the night -- stretched the lead back to 12, and the Bears were off and running again. After Crabbe's three, Cal went on a 16-7 run, after which the closest Stanford got was 16 points. With 2:07 left in the game, the Bears led by a game-high 28 points.
Sanders-Frison tallied his seventh double-double of the season (and the seventh of his career) with 13 points and 13 rebounds on Senior Night, and walked off to a lengthy standing ovation with a minute to go.
"It was very emotional. I appreciate all the love and support from the fans, the Bear Backers, the coaching staff, my teammates -- definitely my teammates -- it was an emotional day for me, " Sanders-Frison said. "It was hard to have to get through it, and I appreciate and love this group of guys. I haven't had this much fun or bonded like this since high school, and that was in '06. It's been a very long time."
Sanders-Frison effectively shut down Owens, who shot just 2-of-6 from the field in 24 minutes.
"He's been a warrior in there," Montgomery said. "He's a big guy on the boards, he's got pretty long arms so he probably plays bigger than his 6-7 and he's hard to move around. If you look at it, defensively, Owens had two jump hooks that were very nice moves, but didn't get to where he wanted to very often. (Sanders-Frison) took a charge, and it was 44-16 in the paint, and that's really something for us."
On his double-double, Sanders-Frison waxed sentimental about his role as a leader for this young squad.
"That's one of the key roles I play: leadership and picking up the young guys, because they need it and we need them," Sanders-Frison said. "When they make mistakes, it's my job to make sure that they keep playing through it, because, you know, Coach Montgomery can get on them pretty bad sometimes. I just come out and reassure them, tell them to keep on doing what they're doing, because no one's going to play a perfect game. They're doing a great job, and they've got a bright future."
One of those youngsters, true freshman Crabbe, scored 21 of his 24 points after halftime, and shot 10-of-13 from the floor, 1-of-2 from three and 3-of-3 from the line on the evening.
"I guess I was just moving around more, being a lot more aggressive," said Crabbe. "I was coming off screens and curling. They were tagging pretty hard, so the coaches just kept telling us to curl into the middle because it was wide open, and if they helped, just dish it off. I picked it up in the second half. I guess I just started off a little slow in the first half and found open areas in the second half to get easy shots."
Crabbe added nine boards, five assists, a block and a steal in his 38 minutes on the floor.
"I think that young man is playing at a very high level right now, and so is Harper Kamp," said Dawkins. "You can see the progress that they've made (this season), I think some of that showed tonight."
-- Cal now leads the all-time series over Stanford, 143-114. The Cardinal won the first game of the season against the Bears, 82-68 on The Farm.
-- Crabbe is now 54-of-133 from three on the season, remaining in fourth-place on the all time single-season list for three-point percentage by a freshman with 40.6 percent after going 1-of-2 tonight.
-- Crabbe shot 3-of-3 from the line today, improving to second-place in free-throw percentage in a season by a freshman all-time with 82.4 percent (70-for-85). His 24 points led Cal's scorers and marked the fourth time this year that he has scored over 20.
"Certainly, Allen Crabbe has developed into an awfully nice player," Montgomery said. "He's arguably the best freshman in the conference, but I think you could take that a step further and say he's one of the better players in the conference, based on the numbers that he puts up."
-- Kamp's 20 points marked the sixth time that the junior power forward has reached the 20-point plateau on the season.
Kamp had been battling some back stiffness, but the one-game week helped his recuperation.
"My back's been feeling better," Kamp said. "We got a little rest this week because we didn't have the two games, and I was just able to get a little extra work in and get back to my routine, so it felt good."
-- Sanders-Frison finished with 13 points and 13 boards to earn his seventh career double-double, all coming this season. He also set a career high in rebounds. His previous high was 12 against Kansas, on Dec. 22.
Sanders-Frison's leadership has been key to the progression of this young team throughout the season, and Montgomery was quite effusive in his praise of his big man, Kamp and Gutierrez after the game.
"Spectacular, I mean, they really were. Last year's group, we won the conference -- which is fabulous -- but there was always something," Montgomery said. "We talked about it with Jorge, Harper and Markhuri in terms of they need to be guys that step up and be leaders and that they need to take over this thing, and they really, really did. They set the tone in the summer when we had six new guys come in, and there were no if's, and's or but's. You're going to be here on time, you're going to work. Freshmen don't know any better, so that's the way it is, that's what we do, and they were fabulous that way.
"I think one of Markhuri's biggest assets -- and I think one of the reasons he's going to be successful -- is because he's a very personable guy who people like and he's a great leader. He talks to people, he's no-nonsense, he doesn't come off as being this great player, but he's a big old burly guy that people want to listen to. He walks the walk. He does not, not work hard, he doesn't take days off, and he did that in the weight room."
-- Cal led 33-21 at the half, the sixth time this season that the Bears have led by double figures at the break. It was Cal's largest halftime lead since Jan. 29 when the Bears led Oregon, 47-35 at the half.
-- After shooting 72 percent in the second half at Oregon State last Saturday, Cal followed up with another strong second half, shooting 65.4 percent (17-of-26). Overall, the Bears shot 55.8 percent from the field (29-of-52) while the Cardinal shot just 38.2 percent from the field on the game (21-of-55). Stanford shot just 7-of-25 in the first half (28 percent) and improved to 46.7 percent (14-of-30) after the break.
-- Cal outscored the Card 44-16 in the paint and 15-0 on fast breaks.
-- The Bears out-rebounded Stanford by 12, 38-26. It was Cal's first double-digit margin since out-rebounding ASU by 16 on Jan. 8.
-- The Cardinal's 55 points were the fewest by a Stanford team against Cal since Jan. 6, 2002, when the Bears won 68-54.
With a 62-60 win over the Huskies, the Trojans clinched the No. 4-seed (with a one-win overall advantage over the Bears) slot in the Pac-10 Tournament. They will square off with the Bears in the 4/5 game at 12:10 PM at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, March 10.
"It's going to be a physical game," said Sanders-Frison. "They have good bigs and they have a good team. We owe them one more butt-kicking, and it's our job to go down there and give it to them hard with whatever master plan Coach comes up with."