BERKELEY, Calif. -- Confetti rained down from the rafters at Haas Pavilion, as a historic day for Cal happened to coincide with coach Mike Montgomery’s 63rd birthday party.
The Bears clinched at least a share of the conference title with a decisive 62-46 win over Arizona State, marking the first time in 50 years they have been able to call themselves champions. As for Montgomery?
“Getting old,” he mused, concluding his press conference with a false claim that he had turned only 56.
Winning, however, never really did go out of style with Montgomery, who only six years ago captured the last of his conference titles with rival Stanford.
He resigned to take the Golden State Warriors job after that 2004 championship. Two years in the NBA resulted in an under-.500 record and the Warriors parting ways with Montgomery. Two years at Cal led to Montgomery standing at the top of a ladder with scissors in his hands and a hoarse voice while addressing the crowd.
“Honestly, we’ve been under the gun,” Montgomery said. “The stress has taken its toll. My voice started to give up yesterday. It isn’t from yelling.”
The old veterans at Cal bought in and did it together. Celebrating Senior Day, guards Patrick Christopher (14 points) and Jerome Randle, along with forwards Jamal Boykin (14 points) and Theo Robertson (13 points), each helped gradually wear down Arizona State.
Christopher held Ty Abbott, the Sun Devils’ leading scorer, to eight points on 4-of-13 shooting. Randle was limited himself to seven points, but was more than satisfied with wearing the net around his neck and cutting off a strand of it to keep as a memento.
“I’ve never been that high up anywhere,” the 5-foot-10 point guard said.
“Different things from different people, that’s the key,” Montgomery said. “His focus was totally on winning this game. We wasn’t worried about who was scoring. He was just worried that we were scoring.”
ASU led at halftime by a point, but Cal went on an 18-4 run to finish the game and surrendered only two field goals in the final 11 minutes. The Sun Devils were only 3-for-22 from 3-point range.
Cal has fielded teams with more talent, but no team had won a conference championship since Pete Newell’s Bears took the Athletic Association of Western Universities title in 1960.
With the win, the 20-9 Bears also clinched the top seed in the Pac-10 tournament and have hopes of making an NCAA tournament run.
“This team can accomplish so much,” Boykin said. “All the feelings will kick in when this season is over.”
Montgomery declared that the Pac-10 was not a one-bid league, stopping short of saying the conference crown should give the Bears at least an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament.
“Not too concerned about that,” Montgomery said. “Other people make that decision. They can’t take this away.
“To me, the conference championship is the crown jewel. It’s the thing that means the most.”