BERKELEY-In a game that was far closer than the final score indicated, the youthful Cal basketball team was scrappy, determined, feisty and physical, but despite wrestling matches, ejections, dunks and a hot crowd, could not overcome the size, speed and athleticism of No. 3 Kansas, which pulled away in the final minutes to turn what was a game as close as three points into a 78-63 romp.
In front of a filled-to-the-rafters Haas Pavilion crowd of 11,250, the Bears (6-5) did not appear intimidated in the least by one of the top teams in the land.
"It just showed that we had a lot of heart, even though we came out with the loss," said Cal true freshman guard Allen Crabbe. "We always play hard. That's our thing. Everybody's doubting us, saying that we're not going to do that well this year, but we want to prove people wrong. We just want to put it all out there, all we have, every time we step on the court."
Head coach Mike Montgomery wasn't expecting the game to be as physical as it turned out to be, featuring several instances during the second half when play had to be halted because of the intense physical confrontations that saw three technical fouls and one ejection.
"I think both teams responded or reacted to the other team, and we went out and we wanted to try and compete, and then some stuff happened and then there was reaction both ways," Montgomery said. "We were trying to compete, we were trying to do what we needed to do to compete."
The Bears gave as well as they got for 28 minutes before the Jayhawks' unrelenting physicality took its toll.
"There were two teams competing hard and things got a little bit heated," Crabbe said. "I know both teams wanted this game. I know we did. It was a big game for us, we came in prepared and just played hard, but I guess it got away from us."
Cal pushed Kansas (11-0) hard in the waning minutes of the first half, pulling to within six points with less than a minute to go. With a head of steam all ready to go into the break, the usually-sharp Harper Kamp committed two big mental errors that allowed the Jayhawks to extend their lead.
With 15 seconds left, trying to follow his own three-point attempt and grab a rebound, Kamp all but tackled his defender, instead of taking the foul.
Then, with just two seconds left, Kamp was called for a foul in transition on Markieff Morris near half-court, allowing the 6-foot-10, 245-pound junior to shoot and make both of his free throws in the double bonus. Aside from those early mental miscues, Kamp was solid scoring eight points on 2-of-5 shooting and 4-of-5 from the free-throw line, pulling down two boards and tallying two steals.
"It was a mistake on Jorge's part to shoot the ball with seven seconds," Montgomery said. "We called a play to try and use the clock. We wanted a ball screen and we had the ball down six with the chance to get the last shot where we'd call something to set a pick-and-roll, and we have to use time. We shoot the ball maybe with three, and if we score it, we're down four, coming in with some momentum, but we shoot it the first time we catch it and then foul so it goes to eight. That was really, those are things we have to learn."
But even with that, the Bears came out on fire in the second half, going on a 13-0 run over 2:42, starting with 18:09 left in the game.
"That's just part of the game of basketball," said senior Cal center Markhuri Sanders-Frison. "There's runs, there's momentum swings throughout the whole game. It was just back-and-forth, back-and-forth, and we just needed a couple more to seal the game."
The Bears scratched and clawed, matching the bigger and faster Jayhawks' physical play for the first chunk of the second half, fueled by the fire and emotion of junior guard Jorge Gutierrez.
"You've got to love Jorge; he's the greatest," Montgomery said. "He's just the best, but he's a stubborn son-of-a-gun, and if you attack him, he's going to come back at you. That's just his nature. That's what makes him so good."
With 16:19 to play, Crabbe clanked a long jumper and Gutierrez raced down to the left edge of the paint near the free throw line to retrieve the rebound amidst a cloud of blue jerseys, where he butted heads with Thomas Robinson. The two rolled around on the ground for a bit before feet and fists started flailing.
"There are times when you've got to recognize, for example, that you've got three fouls and you can't afford to get a fourth," Montgomery said. "When you get a fourth, you know that you're going to have to go out for a substantial period of time. Even when he got his third, we were concerned because we knew he was going to get a fourth at some point, and then you have to take him out. He had three early and he takes things personally. That's what he does. He takes things personally and he competes out there. It's not a bad thing, except there are times and circumstances. You can sit on the bench and look out there and say, 'Gosh, I wish he was out there,' and your response would be that if (Gutierrez) were able to think through that situation, maybe you wouldn't have got your fourth."
A quick-thinking Kamp managed to pry his teammate away from the fray before things escalated, saving Gutierrez from a possible ejection.
"You're not going to change the nature of who (Gutierrez) is, and that's what makes him so good and it's what we love about him and there isn't anybody who wouldn't want to have him," Montgomery said. "For us, we need him on the floor, and Harper pulled him out of there and that was smart, because if someone starts yipping at Jorge, he's not going to walk away. He's going to stand in there."
After Gutierrez had his lucha libre moment, Cal went on a 6-3 run to cut the deficit to three.
"It pumped us up, and after that, we had a little run," Crabbe said. "It just fired us up, and the crowd got more into it, so I guess that gave us a little spark."
The momentum continued to swing like a pendulum, and when true freshman Gary Franklin hit a three from the elbow to bring the Bears to within six with 16:10 to go, Haas shook all the way down to its foundations.
The sold-out arena was hot all night, with a substantial Kansas contingent trading chants, boos and cheers with an equally-impassioned blue-and-gold-clad crowd.
"It was fun; It was a great environment," said Sanders-Frison. "We've been waiting for this for a long time, so we're very excited about it. It was a physical game, and I love to play physical."
Most of the Jayhawk fans' ire was reserved for Gutierrez, and for the rest of the evening, every time he touched the ball, he was greeted with a chorus of boos, which only seemed to pump up the Chihuaua, Mex., native up even more.
Gutierrez scored a team-high 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, pulling down four boards and notching three assists, but because of foul trouble rooted in that emotional flare-up, played just 28 minutes.
"We've got some guys that tried to take care of themselves out there," Montgomery said. "Jorge getting his fourth in that situation, with the technical, that ended up taking him out of the game for a while. It ended up hurting us. Of course, they lost one of their kids, too."
Kansas lost the services of junior standout Marcus Morris with 17:23 left in the game, when the 6-foot-9, 235-pounder out of Philadelphia greeted Cal junior big man Harper Kamp with a double dose of elbow on a box-out. Morris was tapped with a flagrant and intentional foul and ejected from the game. That didn't stop his twin brother Markieff Morris, though, as the 6-foot-10, 245-pound junior scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting to go along with 10 boards and two steals.
With the All-American candidate Marcus Morris out, Cal pulled to within three points of the Jayhawks with 12:48 left in the second half, but the Bears picked the wrong team and the wrong time to forget how to shoot the basketball, particularly from the free-throw line, where Cal went 19-of-33 on the night.
"The free-throw situation is scary because we were getting to the basket," Montgomery said. "We were getting foul calls and we weren't getting anything out of it. We had 14 foul shots (missed), which are 14 points that we gave away. Of those, I don't know how many are front-ends (of one-and-one's), maybe a couple, so let's say there's two (free-throw opportunities) there, so that's 16 points that you don't get. Against a team like that, you can't do that. You go down, you make a good play, you get to the basket, get fouled and then you come away with nothing or you come away with one, and that's discouraging."
After shooting 40.7% (11-for-27) from the field in the first half, the Bears hit just nine of their last 30 shots (30%) as Kansas pulled away. When the home club turned to the long ball, they were simply dismal, going 4-of-22 (18.2%) from three-point land. Crabbe turned in perhaps his finest overall effort of the season, pulling down six boards, notching three assists, two blocks and two steals, but none of that could make up for a 4-of-12 night from the field and a 1-for-6 night from beyond the arc.
"The shots, I don't know, we were 4-of-22 from three and they're 7-of-19, so they aren't lighting it up, but it's certainly better than 4-for-22," Montgomery said. "Were they bad shots? They're not going down, so I guess they are, but we had a hard time getting the ball inside. Kansas did a really good job of taking the inside away."
Cal scored just 24 points in the paint to the Jayhawks' 34, and in the second half, Kansas poured in 24 post points to the Bears' 14.
"They're big, they were able to front and get physical with us," Montgomery said. "We had a hard time getting it in, turned it over sometimes when we did get it in, so we didn't get any consistency with our ability to get the ball to the inside. Kansas I'm sure came in with the objective to take that away, but we're going to have to be more patient. We're just going to have to figure a way to get better shots, get a better rhythm, so that we can start making eight of those (three-point) shots instead of four, give us some production and then make free-throws."
Despite their overall poor shooting performance, Cal fell back on the one thing it does best: hard-nosed, blue-collar work.
"Our guys will compete; I think you've got that figured out," Montgomery said. "These guys will compete. They're not afraid. We've got to get smarter, obviously, and we have to have better performance. Basketball, at the end of the day, is a game of performance, let's be honest. The effort is a big part of it, but at some point, you're just going to have to make plays."
Despite severe pain in his feet, Sanders-Frison put on quite a performance of his own, netting the third double-double of his career-all coming this season-with 10 points and 12 rebounds in just 25 minutes of play. Sanders-Frison also added two assists and two blocks, to boot.
"I'm in a lot of pain right now," Sanders-Frison winced after the game. "It was just physical: two teams going at it. We knew going into the game that the game was going to be a physical game. My teammates and I were prepared for that type of play. We were ready to play physical."
But neither he nor Gutierrez could compete with the Jayhawks' stellar true freshman Josh Selby, who in his second collegiate game shot 6-of-13 from the floor and 3-of-4 from three-point range for 18 points, adding a 3-for-3 night from the charity stripe, two boards, four assists and two steals in 34 minutes, spending more time on the floor than all but one starter.
"If I was to pick a guy who was probably as big a difference-maker as anybody, it was the Selby kid," Montgomery said. "He just made plays. He ends up with numbers just because he's coming in and getting by people and shooting floaters and shooting off the dribble. So, he comes in and scores whatever he scores off the bench and not that he should be a bench player-nor is he a bench player-but he comes in and that's the kind of thing that makes a big difference. We've got to find a way to be able to manufacture easier scores.
"I thought that in the second half, we had three situations where they had a lay-up or a close-in shot and rather than go up aggressively and try to block it, we just got this little touch foul and they get three-point plays. I know of at least three times-that's nine points that they get, rather than a good, aggressive foul or trying to get them so that they have to go to the line and maybe they miss one, now they get one. Instead they're getting three on the foul that's really a touch foul. You can't do that. You've got to be more aggressive in those situations. Against a team of this caliber, if you look at a play like that, you say that can be a difference-maker. You start adding those things up and the next thing you know, you're putting yourself in a really tough spot to try to beat a team as good as Kansas. Those things, you've just got to do better."
• Before the game, Cal unveiled a brand-spanking-new addition to the Ring of Honor: the 2010 Pac-10 Championship banner.
13 minutes before tip-off, the blue flag with gold trim took its place in the northwest corner of the arena's rafters, right between the 1999 NIT title banner and a Coca-Cola advert. For the full-sized photo, courtesy of Kelley Cox of GoldenBearSports.com, click here.
• The Bears now trail the all-time series with the Jayhawks 16-3.
• Despite the loss, Cal has won 42 of its last 47 nonconference home games.
• This was the first time that the Bears have hosted a nonconference team ranked in the top five since Dec. 12, 1958, when Cal hosted No. 3 Kansas State, losing 68-65.
• Kansas is the third ranked team that the Bears have played so far this season. Cal defeated then-No. 20 Temple, 57-50, in Orlando, Fla., on Nov. 25 and fell to then-No. 14 San Diego State at home on Dec. 8, 77-57.
• After committing 11 turnovers to the Jayhawks' eight in the first half, the Bears turned the ball over just five times after the break to Kansas' six. The Jayhawks scored 25 points off of turnovers, while Cal scored just 17.
• The Bears recorded 39 rebounds to Kansas' 40. Cal had 15 offensive rebounds while the Jayhawks recorded 12 on the offensive end, but Kansas won the battle of the defensive boards 28-24.