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January 30, 2012

Bears win 17th straight at Haas



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BERKELEY -- In The 258th contest between California and Stanford, there was more than just bragging rights on the line. For the Bears, their 69-59 win meant a share of first place in the Pac-12, and they avoided their first loss of the season at Haas Pavilion.

For the first time since Feb. 27, 2010, when the Bears beat Arizona State to win the Pac-10 title, Haas was sold out and loud enough to give the home team a true home-court advantage.

"It was great," said senior guard Jorge Gutierrez. "I don't think I've ever seen the gym that packed. I've been here three years and a half, and that's probably the first time I've seen the gym that packed. It was a great feeling for me."

The crowd spurred Gutierrez forward, as he recorded his second career double-double with 12 rebounds and 11 points on the night. Four Bears -- including Gutierrez -- scored in double figures, led by sophomore wing Allen Crabbe with 18 points, senior forward Harper Kamp adding 15 points and sophomore point guard Justin Cobbs contributing with 13 points of his own.

The win wasn't as easy as the final score would suggest. Cal (17-5, 7-2 Pac-12) went into the locker room at the half down by one, 33-32, after leading the Cardinal (15-6, 5-4 Pac-12) by nine with 6:24 remaining in the period.

The Bears started the game cold on offense -- missing their first six field goal attempts. Gutierrez ended that streak after extending it with a missed layup, rebound, and then a short jumper just outside of the paint.

With 13:06 remaining in the first half, Crabbe tied the game at 11 on a pair of technical foul free throws. Just 29 seconds later, Gutierrez gave the Bears their first lead of the night, 14-11, with a three-point bucket from the left side. Gutierrez's bucket led Cal on a 14-5 run which culminated with Cobbs free throw on the back-end of a fast-break layup that electrified the crowd.

The electricity was grounded for the rest of the half as Stanford used the final minutes of the period to outscore the Bears 17-7.

With 10 minutes remaining, the Bears were holding on to a slim one-point lead, and the momentum was shifting faster than the tectonic plates below Memorial Stadium. With 13 lead changes and eight ties, it was shaping up to be an affair decided at the final buzzer.

Kamp's jumper -- off an assist from Crabbe with 10:02 remaining -- began a 13-2 run for Cal that concluded with Crabbe pulling down an offensive board and laying it in for a 10-point lead, 56-46, with 5:24 left in the game. That Bears lead was never challenged again.

The win gives Cal a share of first place with Washington at the halfway point of the Pac-12 season. According to head coach Mike Montgomery, "It's just a question of how many people you're going to be tied with.

"Everybody is trying to separate and it's not happening much," continued Montgomery. "We have to win at home and we did. We still have to go over and play those guys there."

Winning at home has become nearly automatic for the Bears. They have now won 14 straight home games this season, and 17 games in a row while playing in the cozy confines of their own gym. The last time Cal was defeated on Pete Newell Court was to USC, on Feb. 17, 2011.

"As long as we stay on top of this thing, that's the spot we're trying to stay in," Montgomery concluded about being atop the conference at the midway point.

To do that, they'll have to shoot better than they did against Stanford. The game began with the Bears having a cold hand on offense -- missing their first six shots, and not completing a field goal for the first three and a half minutes of the contest.

For the game, Cal shot a dismal 42.9% (24-56) from the field. Their shooting was so poor, the Bears attempted just 11 three-point shots and connected on just two for an 18.2% efficiency for the game.

Where the Bears failed on offense, they made up for with energy plays. Cal had 10 fast break points while preventing Stanford from getting any, and also outscored the Cardinal 10-5 on second-chance put backs.

Cal will next face reigning conference champion, Arizona (14-8, 5-3 Pac-12), while attempting to extend its home-court winning streak on Thursday night.


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