College Basketball Nation: Jerome Randle

Seniors getting one more game

March, 27, 2010
3/27/10
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The Reese's College All-Star Game will be played at the Final Four on Friday, and some seniors will get an extra college game and a trip to Indy under their belts. According to a UCLA press release, here's how one of the teams coached by Gene Keady will stack up:

Michael Roll (G, UCLA)

Robert Glenn (F, IUPUI)

Trevon Hughes (G, Wisconsin)

Jerome Randle (G, California)

Adam Koch (F, Northern Iowa)

Omar Samhan (C, Saint Mary's)

Aubrey Coleman (G, Houston)

Bryan Davis (F, Texas A&M)

Tyren Johnson (F, Louisiana Lafayette)

Quincy Pondexter (F, Washington)

UPDATE: Pondexter won't be playing.

Sherron Collins apparently not done yet

March, 26, 2010
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Kansas star Sherron Collins is one of four players selected so far to head to the Final Four to participate in the 3-point shooting contest, according to a release issued by New Mexico.

Also selected were New Mexico's Roman Martinez, Maryland's Eric Hayes and Cal's Jerome Randle.

The others yet to be named are still playing in the NCAA tournament.
Duke V. CaliforniaBob Donnan/US PresswireNolan Smith scored 20 points and shut down Jerome Randle in Duke's win over California.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Nolan Smith never slapped the floor.

But had the Duke guard chosen to go that route on Sunday, well even the most hardened Blue Devils haters might have cut him some slack. Smith's defensive effort against California star Jerome Randle set the tone for his team's incident-free, 68-53 second-round NCAA Tournament victory.

Randle was the Pac-10 player of the year, an explosive scorer because of his speed and nearly unlimited shooting range. Against Duke and Smith, though, he finished with just 12 points, including only one field goal after halftime.

Smith also had his way on the other end, scoring a game-high 20 points.

"Nolan, he just dominated that matchup," Blue Devils forward Lance Thomas said. "Randle had nothing for him. He took the initiative and picked him up from three-quarters of the court and let him know it was going to be a fight all game. And Nolan knocked him out."

Duke has been knocked out of the NCAA Tournament by the round of 16 in seven of the past eight years and in each of the past five seasons. Its hopes of going longer seem stronger this time, largely because of defense.

The Blue Devils allowed just 61.7 points per game in the regular season, its lowest total since 1950. First-round opponent Arkansas-Pine Bluff mustered just 44 points, while Cal -- which came in averaging 78 points per game -- was held to its lowest score since Feb. 28, 2008.

Defense is why Duke could get nothing from Jon Scheyer, miss 14 of its 17 3-point shots -- a harbinger of tournament death in the recent past -- and still win.

"I don't know if we'll go any further, but this is a better team because it can play total defense," Krzyzewski said. "I mean, someone will say in the past, they relied on the 3-point shot. Well, what else were we going to rely on?

"This team is better. It's not a great team, but it's an excellent defensive team."

That defense starts with Smith, who takes on the challenge of guarding the other team's main ball handler every night. His assignment on Sunday loomed as one of his more daunting tasks, and Randle scored seven points in the first 10 minutes, including a pair of layups.

"I got really upset with myself," Smith said.

From then on, though, Randle was the one feeling bad about things. Smith smacked the ball away as Randle tried to attempt a last-second shot before the half. Randle went just 1-for-5 in the second half while Smith wore him down on offense in what Krzyzewski called "a marvelous performance."

"I wanted to pick him up as early as I could," Smith said. "I've seen films where he'd come up and shoot from 30 feet while guys are backpedaling. Today I was just up in him. He had to look at me before he looked at the rim tonight."

Duke has always prided itself at guarding the perimeter, even if some of its guards were limited athletically. Now Krzyzewski has a ferocious on-ball defender in Smith and length with guys like Kyle Singler, Thomas and 7-foot-1 center Brian Zoubek, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds on Sunday. Even if they get beat off the dribble, the Blue Devils now have confidence that someone on the back line will swat away the shot or take a charge.

And that has the team thinking bigger things than the Sweet 16 this year.

"If we defend and rebound, I think we can beat anyone," Thomas said. "I don't care who we play. If we stick to our defensive game plan, we can take anyone out."

Final: Duke 68, California 53

March, 21, 2010
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The first weekend of the NCAA tournament went about as smoothly as Duke could have hoped.

The Blue Devils didn't fall victim to a shocking upset and received hardly a challenge on their way to the Sweet 16. And given their recent tournament history, that's noteworthy in itself.

Duke methodically took down eighth-seeded California 68-53 on Sunday. The Golden Bears made one little run in the second half to get within seven points at 44-37, but the Blue Devils quickly extinguished that fire and kept the margin safely at double digits down the stretch.

It was an impressive defensive effort against a California team that lives to run-and-gun and shoots from anywhere beyond the midcourt stripe. The Bears went just 3-for-12 on three-pointers and their Big Three of Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher were held in check, totaling just 35 points.

Duke's Nolan Smith led all scorers with 20 points and hounded Randle defensively. Brian Zoubek had 14 points and 12 rebounds, six of them on the offensive glass. The Blue Devils owned a 38-24 advantage on points in the paint.

Halftime: Duke 37, Cal 24

March, 21, 2010
3/21/10
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Quick impressions of the first half between Duke and California, which the Blue Devils lead 37-24:

  • Cal was hanging around, trailing just 20-17 until Duke went on a big run to close the half. The Blue Devils have succeeded in their main goal of forcing the Golden Bears to execute in the half court, as they've given up no fast-break points so far. They especially limited Cal's transition opportunities in the final minutes of the half, which helped them go on their run.
  • Nolan Smith had a terrific first half. Not only does he have 11 points, but he's done a solid job defending against Cal's leading scorer, Jerome Randle. Smith kept Randle from getting a clean look just before halftime and was nearly mobbed by teammates coming off the floor on the way to the locker room. It's safe to say Duke has all the momentum here right now.
  • Cal loves to shoot from deep and needs to hit a bunch of threes to have a chance, but it was just 1-for-6 behind the arc in the first half as Duke did a good job closing out on shooters. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, have shot an even 50 percent and are exploiting their size advantage inside.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The first batch of games here in Jacksonville lacked the drama that gripped some of the other sites. Three of the first four contests were decided by double digits.

But with Cornell, Duke, Cal and Wisconsin, I'd put this pod's SAT scores up against any other subregional. Here's a look at the games on tap for Sunday:

Cornell (12) vs. Wisconsin (4), 2:50 p.m.

Key to the game: Cornell can shoot it as well as anybody. Wisconsin defends as well as anybody. Sounds simplistic, but that's basically what this game boils down to. Cornell dissected Temple, another good defensive team, in the first round, getting pretty much whatever open looks it wanted. Wisconsin rarely allows anybody to feel comfortable, but its defensive philosophy of chasing shooters off the three-point line will be challenged by a team with four players capable of draining the long ball at any time.

"We have to try to take away their air space," Badgers forward Jon Leuer said. "When you have a guy breathing right down your neck when you come off a screen, it makes you think twice about shooting a 3. We have to make them put it on the floor and hopefully take some tough jumpers."

Player to watch: Wisconsin's Trevon Hughes. He makes the Badgers go, and his ability to penetrate and dish could cause problems for Cornell's defense. Louis Dale will be under a lot of pressure to slow Hughes down.

Who has the edge: Believe it or not, Cornell. Wisconsin has struggled shooting the ball lately, and the Big Red is riding a huge wave of confidence right now. They proved they could handle a deliberate, defensive-minded team in the first round and will be headed to the Sweet 16 if they play the same way today.

California (8) vs. Duke (1), 5:15 p.m.

Key to the game: The Golden Bears and Blue Devils meet in the tournament for the first time since Jason Kidd outdueled Bobby Hurley in 1993. Duke's trio of Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer garner a lot of attention, but Cal has its own Big Three with Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher. Emphasize the word "three" with that group, because all of them like to let it fly from way beyond the college arc, as Louisville found out Friday night. They give the underdog Bears a shooter's chance.

"We haven't played a team with this many weapons from the outside," Scheyer said. "It's all about being disciplined on defense."

Duke, though, has a major advantage in size, as Cal's only starter over 6-foot-6 is former Blue Devils transfer Jamal Boykin. And this is one of the best defensive teams, at least statistically, that Mike Krzyzewski has ever fielded. Duke will have to close out on shooters and prevent the Bears from getting runouts in transition like they did Friday against Louisville.

Player to watch: Randle. The point guard, whom Krzyzewski called "a blur," can change the game with his speed, deep range and near-automatic foul shooting. He'll be matched up against Duke's best on-ball defender in Smith.

Who has the edge: Duke. Cal had a nice performance against Louisville, but hasn't proved it can beat an elite team yet this season. The Blue Devils should be able to ride their length and depth to avoid the same second-round fate as fellow No. 1 seed Kansas.
Terrence JenningsBob Donnan/US PresswirePatrick Christopher finished with 17 points and eight rebounds in Cal's win over Louisville.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- We take it all back, Pac-10.

Sure, all year we held our noses while looking at your standings. Maybe we scoffed at your lack of marquee wins or ranked teams. We said some things we regret, like you were one of the worst major leagues in recent memory and that you only deserved one NCAA Tournament bid this year.

Our bad.

Clearly, you must still know how to play a little basketball. Washington knocked off Marquette on Thursday, and then here in Jacksonville on Friday night, California stomped Louisville 77-62. That's Marquette and Louisville from the Big East, supposedly the king of all conferences. Before this week, the Pac-10 had scored only one first-round win over the Big East in NCAA tournament play since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

So go ahead. Crow a little bit.

[+] EnlargeJerome Randle
AP Photo/Steve HelberRandle finished with a team-high 21 points.
"I've been listening to a lot of things that have been said about the Pac-10, and honestly I feel like we have great players and great teams," Cal senior guard Jerome Randle said. "Just because we didn't have any Top 25 teams, people were trashing our league. But we were competitive every night. Luckily, Cal and Washington got in, and we were able to send a message in the first round."

Some had wondered if the Bears even deserved to make the field. Despite winning the Pac-10 regular season title and boasting a high RPI, they didn't have any great wins this season. They felt they had something to prove as a No. 8 seed.

"No matter what people were saying about the league, we still felt like it was a tremendous accomplishment to win the conference," forward Theo Robertson said. "We wanted to come out here and show the nation, really, that we're a good basketball team."

It didn't take Louisville long to find that out. The Bears opened with a blitzkrieg, scoring the game's first 12 points and racing out to leads of 22-4 and 30-12.

"I was a little upset that Obama didn't put us in his bracketology," Randle joked, referring to the president's own Pac-10 doubting picks. "So I just wanted to come out strong."

What Cal lacked in big bodies and physical play -- a strength of the purportedly superior Big East -- it more than made up for with speed and shooting. When the Cardinals tried to press, Randle zipped right by them. When Louisville made two serious runs to get within striking distance, Randle, Robertson and Patrick Christopher made key shots to keep the lead afloat.

"Just bang, bang, bang," coach Mike Montgomery said. "We shot the ball and probably caught them off guard, which we do occasionally."

Montgomery doesn't have a deep team, and his bench was shorter than normal after the suspension of starting forward Omondi Amoke. Randle played all 40 minutes, while Robertson and Christopher logged 38 minutes each against Louisville's constant full-court pressure defense. Yet it was Cal that ended the game on a 12-2 run over the final six minutes.

The small rotation and lack of size figures to be a factor against top-seeded Duke on Sunday. But the Bears are still carrying the Pac-10 banner.

"Now we want to prove to people that we are capable of wining more than one game," Randle said.

We promise not to doubt you anymore, Pac-10. Can we be friends again?

Final: Cal 77, Louisville 62

March, 20, 2010
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- To say California vs. Louisville was a game of runs is like saying the ocean has a few waves.

The Bears opened the game with a 22-4 lead, then saw Louisville get it back to single digits late in the first half. After Cal built a 14-point edge in the second half, the Cardinals stormed back to get within four points with seven minutes left.

But Cal had the last run and the last laugh, advancing to play Duke on Sunday with a 77-62 win.

The end came for Louisville when the Cardinals were called for an intentional foul with 2:43 left after coach Rick Pitino yelled for his team to foul. Pitino argued and was slapped with a technical, giving California four free throws and the ball.

Really, though, the Bears won with their outside shooting. Every time Louisville got close, a Cal shooter would hit a big jumper. Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher combined to make all eight of the team's 3-pointers and scored 59 points together.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, got very little from their backcourt outside of Edgar Sosa. Starting guards Jerry Smith and Reginald Delk and top reserve Preston Knowles were a combined 3-for-17 from the floor.

Halftime: Cal 41, Louisville 30

March, 19, 2010
3/19/10
11:19
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Quick halftime thoughts from the final game of the day here at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, where No. 8 seed Cal leads No. 9 Louisville 41-30:

  • The start of the game was delayed by 20 minutes as arena workers fixed a malfunctioning clock above one of the baskets. The teams retreated to the locker room while the work was performed, and Louisville might as well not have even come out for the first six minutes of the game.
  • Cal scored the first 12 points and held a bloated 22-4 lead after an intentional foul on Terrence Jennings resulted in a five-point trip. The start resembled the blowout runs Rick Pitino's old Kentucky teams used to put on tournament opponents, but the other way around. Patrick Christopher hit three 3-pointers early and finished the half with 13 points
  • The Cardinals, though, didn't fold. They used a 12-0 run midway through the half to get back in it as the Bears started to get sloppy with the ball. The lead shrank to six points late in the half, but Jerome Randle's 35-foot buzzer-beater put Cal back on top by 11 points and could be a huge momentum changer.
  • Rick Pitino rolled the dice and let point guard Edgar Sosa play with two fouls in the first half. Sosa picked up his third foul on a charge with a little more than five minutes to go. Pitino has shown little faith in freshman Peyton Siva, so the point guard situation is one to watch in the second half.
  • Louisville's press didn't seem to bother Cal much as the Bears used their quickness to break it several times for easy scores. But Mike Montgomery's team isn't very deep with the suspension of starting forward Omondi Amoke, and all five starters played at least 17 minutes in the first half. Can they avoid fatigue and hang on to this lead?
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Previewing Friday's action at Jacksonville Memorial Arena:

Temple (5) vs. Cornell (12), 12:30 p.m.

This promises to be one of the more fascinating first-round matches of the tournament. Both teams appear criminally underseeded -- Cornell is one of the best Ivy League teams in years, while Temple won both the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament title. The game features a contrast of styles: The Big Red led the country in 3-point shooting (43.4 percent), while the Owls have the fourth best 3-point percentage defense (27.8 percent). Hard as it is to believe, the Ivy Leaguers want to push the pace, but Temple prefers a more controlled tempo.

And then you have the side story on the coaches, as Cornell's Steve Donahue spent 10 years as an assistant to Temple's Fran Dunphy at Penn. "There are so many emotions that go on in this tournament, and I'd rather not have the extra layer of emotion of competing against a guy that you were hoping to root for," Dunphy said. No one will want to play the survivor of this confrontation.

Wisconsin (4) vs. Wofford (13), 2:50 p.m.

In its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, Wofford had the misfortune of drawing the Badgers and their suffocating style of play. The Terriers know that they're facing a tall order -- or do they? "It would be a huge upset if we were to beat them; let's be honest" Wofford coach Mike Young said. "But I can tell you this: I know my team. They're a little crazy in a great way, in a wonderful way. They are convinced that they're going to come in here and play well and give themselves a chance to win."

The biggest obstacle will be dealing with Wisconsin's size. The Terriers like to go inside first, but they play a three-guard lineup with two 6-foot-6 forwards. The Badgers counter with 6-foot-10 center Jon Leuer and 6-8 Keaton Nankivil fronting Bo Ryan's typically stingy defense, which allowed just 56.2 points per game this season. Wisconsin had one of the worst shooting days imaginable against Illinois in the Big Ten tournament and still almost found a way to win. A lot more will probably have to go wrong for Ryan's team if Wofford is to pull the upset.

Duke (1) vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (16), 7:25 p.m.

Arkansas Pine-Bluff has already won one game in the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance -- beating Winthrop on Tuesday night in Dayton -- and that will almost certainly have to suffice for the Golden Lions. They don't shoot the ball well -- making just 36.8 from the field and 31.8 percent from the 3-point line on the season -- and they have only one player taller than 6-foot-7. That doesn't sound like the profile of a team that can topple Duke, which has both size and shooters. But guard Terrance Calvin is trying to stay optimistic. "They're a very big team and we're going to have a small lineup, so we're going to try to use our speed against them," he said. More realistically, the Blue Devils will have far too much firepower for this to be close.

California (8) vs. Louisville (9), 9:45 p.m.

Both teams are a bit of a mystery. Cal won the Pac-10 and had a great RPI but lacks any marquee wins. Louisville was good enough to beat Syracuse twice but bad enough to get hammered by Marquette, St. John's and Western Carolina. Each team boasts some very streaky shooters, especially the Golden Bears' Jerome Randle, who can score in bunches.

If Louisville wants to press and play up tempo, Cal says bring it on. "The faster the better," coach Mike Montgomery said. But Montgomery has to worry about the paint, especially with starting power forward Omondi Amoke not making the trip because of a suspension. The Cardinals say they want to feed big man Samardo Samuels early and often. "I feel like he's the key for us in this tournament," Louisville point guard Edgar Sosa said.
LOS ANGELES -- The Pac-10 tournament final Saturday between Washington and Cal saw 22 lead changes and 12 ties, and mirrored the constantly fluctuating season the downtrodden conference had. The way both teams played, however, belied the national perception the league was only sending one team to the NCAA tournament.

[+] EnlargeQuincy Pondexter
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesQuincy Pondexter led Washington with 18 points on Saturday.
While Washington (24-9) earned the conference’s automatic bid with a 79-75 win, there is no question Cal (23-10) is just as deserving. After splitting the season series, both seemed to split baskets from the opening tip in what was easily the best game of an otherwise forgettable tournament played in front of a mostly empty arena the past four days.

As maligned as the Pac-10 has been this season, it at least saved its best performance for a national television audience. It would be hard to find a better tournament final from start to finish than the one Washington and Cal put on at the Staples Center.

Elston Turner's five straight points, including a 3-pointer, put Washington ahead for good, 71-68, with 3:22 remaining.

After depending on the play of leading scorers Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher all season, the Bears were forced to look elsewhere as their talented senior duo had combined for just 10 points with 9:30 left in the game. Fellow seniors Jamal Boykin, who finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds, and Theo Robertson, who had 25 points, were the only reasons Cal was in the game.

“He got two fouls early which is a little unusual,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery of Randle. “We had him [Randle] out of the game for a fair portion trying to get him back and forth and not get a third foul. He’s small so they can post him with a variety of different people. It caused a problem, no question.”

Washington guard Isaiah Thomas, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player, scored 16 points and smiled when asked about guarding Randle. The Huskies made it known they believed Washington forward Quincy Pondexter, who scored 18 points, should have been named the conference’s player of the year over Randle.

“I feel [Pondexter] should have won player of the year and I feel like we should have won the Pac-10 championship,” said Thomas. “We brought all the motivation we could to get this win.”

This was the marquee final the Pac-10 had hoped for in the preseason when Cal and Washington were ranked in the top 15 in the country in both polls. As the season progressed it became impossible to predict which teams would play in the Pac-10 tournament final.

“Some of the losses we got early on in the league hurt the perception,” Montgomery said. “Washington just really lost Brockman from last year. They’re pretty good. I don’t know how there could have been any question about Washington getting in. But if there was, it’s obviously erased. Now we just have to wait and see if they give Arizona State a tumble.”

As much as the Huskies felt they deserved to be in the NCAA tournament, if they had not beaten Cal on Saturday, there was a fairly good chance they would be sitting home next week.

After the game, Pondexter smiled as he hugged the Pac-10 tournament trophy.

“I’m going to be able to sleep tonight finally,” said Pondexter. “I’ve been going to sleep watching 'SportsCenter' every night hearing if we’re in or out, or on the bubble or off the bubble. ... We told each other if we handle business we don’t need a committee to decide if we’re good enough.”

Halftime: Washington 41, Cal 37

March, 13, 2010
3/13/10
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LOS ANGELES -- The precarious bubble Washington sat on heading into the Pac-10 tournament final against Cal became even shakier before the game began. Houston’s upset win in the Conference USA final over No. 25 UTEP, not to mention big wins by fellow bubble teams Minnesota and Mississippi State over ranked teams, means Washington may be in a position where it must win the Pac-10 tournament in order earn an NCAA tournament bid.

In the first half, the Huskies have done everything in their power to keep the decision out of the selection committee's hands, taking a 41-37 lead. Quincy Pondexter has 12 points, half of them coming at the free-throw line.

In a back-and-forth first half that saw 16 lead changes and eight ties, Cal was able to stay in the game thanks to Theo Robertson, who scored 16 points. The Bears also scored 12 points off eight Washington turnovers. California, which shot 70.8 percent in the second half of its win over UCLA will likely shoot better than the 37.1 percent it did in the first half. The Huskies can also expect Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher, who combined for only 10 points in the first half, to find their stride in the second half.

At the very least, if Washington continues to battle Cal the way it has in the first half, and the eye-ball test still means anything to the selection committee, the Huskies -- who split the season series with the Bears this season -- have proven they are on par with Cal.
LOS ANGELES -- Washington’s season looked as if it was already over midway through its conference schedule. Following a loss to USC, gathered in the Trojans' visitor's locker room just two miles up the road from the Staples Center, Quincy Pondexter got up and told his teammates it was only uphill from here.

The Huskies had dropped five of their last seven games and had just lost by 26 points by a team ineligible to play in the postseason.

“The landmark moment for us was after the USC game,” said Pondexter. “At the end of the game guys knew it couldn’t get any worse. And we started playing the right way. ... I think we’ve bought into everything offensively and defensively since then and we’ve been playing much better basketball.”

Since its Jan. 23 loss to USC, Washington (23-9) has won 11 of its last 13 games and six games in a row heading into today's Pac-10 Tournament championship game against Cal (23-9). After being left for dead as late as last week, the Huskies can now claim the conference’s automatic bid or at least make a case for an at-large berth with a strong showing on national television.

The marquee final between the two best teams in the conference is the first bright spot of what has been an otherwise down year for the Pac-10, which was perceived as a one-bid league when the tournament started after sending six teams last season. Washington and Cal split the season series, winning on each other’s court by double digits. Both were perceived as the class of the conference in the preseason, when they were ranked in the top 14 the first week of the season.

“These are two teams that have really, really competed,” said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar. “I think [Cal] is better from the first time we’ve played. I think they’ve gotten into a great rhythm were they are playing very good basketball. Those three 1,000-point career scorers have been through a lot of games and a lot of situations and they play with great calm and don’t get rattled. They do a tremendous job.”

Romar was referring to Cal’s senior triumvirate of Jerome Randle, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson. A fourth senior, Jamal Boykin, will likely reach the 1,000-point plateau as well before his career wraps up.

“When you look at their seniors, they have scored 5,600 points combined between the four guys, I think the next closest in the Pac-10 is about 2,500 points for graduating seniors,” said UCLA coach Ben Howland. “Those guys are special.”

The game will feature five of the top ten scorers in the league (Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas for Washington and Randle, Christopher and Robertson for Cal) and California and Washington are ranked in the top two in the conference in scoring offense and scoring margin. Judging from their first two games the Pac-10 final could easily turn into a rout for whichever team feels more at home. Cal has certainly made it a point to run teams off court as of late, winning nine of its last 10 games by double digits.

“We have a lot of similarities,” said Pondexter. “It’s always a tough battle and whoever executes better wins. We’re both competing for a championship so that adds a great dynamic to this series, but it’s always fun playing against them.”

Cal seniors end UCLA's season

March, 13, 2010
3/13/10
12:01
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LOS ANGELES –- The disparity in talent was apparent each time the teams huddled on the court. On one end, Cal was lead by a quartet of seniors who had combined to score 5,536 points during their careers and collectively averaged 60.1 points per game this season.

On the other end, UCLA was led by a senior who had scored 981 points during his career and was thrust into a leadership role this season as one NBA draft pick after another left Westwood early following the school’s three straight trips to the Final Four.

As the clock ticked down on Cal’s 85-72 win over UCLA in the semifinal of the Pac-10 tournament, Michael Roll put his hands over his head and looked up at the Staples Center ceiling and exhaled. This wasn’t the way Roll was supposed to end his collegiate career. Not after the way it began with three straight trips to the Final Four and 30-plus win seasons. But that’s what happens when you are a solid role player forced to become a leader on a storied program now full of role players and no real stars.

Roll finished his career scoring a career-high 27 points while the only other active senior for UCLA, Nikola Dragovic, scored eight points and hit just 1 of 8 shots from 3-point range. Senior forward James Keefe, who was averaging 2.2 points, had season ending surgery on his left shoulder last month.

While the Bruins lacked playmaking seniors all year, Cal has been brimming with them this season.

Jerome Randle, who was named the Pac-10 Player of the Year, surpassed Sean Lampley on Friday as the all-time leading scorer in Cal history after scoring 24 points. Patrick Christopher leaped over Kevin Johnson and Joe Shipp into fourth place on the school's all-time scoring list after scoring 16 points. Theo Robertson, who is the school’s all-time leader in 3-point shooting percentage, added 20 points, including three from beyond the arc, and Jamal Boykin, who was named all-conference second team this season, rounded out the Cal seniors by scoring 10 points.

Cal’s four seniors scored 70 of the Bears’ 85 points against UCLA and sparked the team’s comeback in the second half.

“When you look at their seniors, they have scored 5,600 points combined between the four guys, I think the next closest in the Pac-10 is about 2,500 points for graduating seniors,” said UCLA coach Ben Howland. “Those guys are special.”

Howland understands he too could have had a special group if he was able to keep his players from leaving school early. In a perfect college basketball world, where players stay until they graduate, Roll would have been the fourth option in a starting lineup that would’ve featured Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday.

“It’s always tough when you lose players early,” Howland said. “But that is the current climate in college basketball and that won’t change in the foreseeable future.”

Cal’s senior leadership was evident early in the second half when Robertson scored seven straight points, including a 3-pointer to give Cal its first lead of the game. The Bears shut down UCLA defensively and hit nearly every open shot, shooting a staggering 70.8 percent from the field in the second half and outscoring UCLA 50-33.

“We adjusted on Roll, who is hard to guard,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “Roll ended up with 27 but he had 16 at the half and for the first 10-12 minutes he didn’t score which I think was the key for us to be able to get back in it. It really helped that we did a job on the key guy who was Roll.”

As Roll’s career came to a close, he sat on the bench and put his head down, raising it from time-to-time to acknowledge the fans chanting his name and giving him a standing ovation. On the other end of the court Montgomery was also giving the senior a standing ovation. The Cal coach went up to Roll after the game to tell him how much he respected him as a player and how well he played during his career.

Meanwhile the college careers of Montgomery’s seniors continued as they shattered any notion that a Pac-10 tournament championship wouldn’t mean anything to the regular-season champs.

“This group is really close, having played together for the last four years and having been through a lot of games,” Robertson said. “We want to win this tournament. There wouldn’t be a better feeling than winning tomorrow. We understand in the postseason its win or go home so that’s in the back of our minds. We really enjoy playing with each other and we’re not ready for it to end.”

Previewing the Pac-10 tournament

March, 10, 2010
3/10/10
10:30
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The Pac-10 tournament this year features nine unranked teams, and for those not named Cal, it’s either win or go home.

A sense of desperation will be felt during every game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles because for many, their postseasons depend entirely on winning the title.

After failing to impress in November and December, and then beating each other during conference play, the Pac-10 is looking like a two-bid conference. With that amount of parity, there is plenty of hope for a surprise team to emerge and punch its NCAA tournament ticket.

“There’s definitely a number of teams that can,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.

And that’s exciting, right?

Storylines

The Pac-10 couldn’t really be a one-bid conference, could it? Crazier things have happened, but if Arizona State and Washington lose their quarterfinal games, and regular-season champ Cal takes the title, there you have it. Can a power-six conference, that has struggled to replace players lost to the NBA, get two or three teams in the NCAA tournament?

Arizona, short of winning the tournament, will have its streak of 25 years of making the NCAA tournament snapped. Senior guard Nic Wise has proven his ability to make game-ending shots, and Miller’s talented freshmen could very well come of age during this event. Even if No. 4-seeded Arizona falters during its quarterfinal against No. 5 UCLA, the future is bright.

Cal might have captured its first regular-season title in 50 years, but the Bears can improve their seeding with another title, and quiet doubters who say they merely took advantage of a weak conference. The experienced seniors in the lineup will have something to say about that.

Players to watch

Jerome Randle, G, Cal, Sr. -- Randle, listed at 5-foot-10, was named the conference’s player of the year and is the heart and soul of the Bears. The point guard can hit the deep three, drive the lane and feed the ball to his teammates.

Quincy Pondexter, F, Washington, Sr. -- Second in scoring and third in rebounding in the Pac-10, Pondexter can do a little bit of everything. He’ll be looking to extend the Huskies’ season for as long as he can before heading to the NBA draft.

Derrick Williams, F, Arizona, Fr. -- A native of the Los Angeles area, Williams takes home with him the conference’s freshman of the year award and is the face of the team’s future. A big tournament would generate plenty of preseason hype.

Team to watch

Washington -- The Huskies haven’t exactly met their preseason expectations as defending conference champions, but now it’s the end of the season and they find themselves on a four-game winning streak and with 21 wins. Their last three wins have come on the road after struggling mightily away from Seattle in the early going. An impressive tournament could garner the No. 3-seeded team an at-large bid.

Game I’m looking forward to

A potential Arizona State-Washington semifinal could make all the difference in deciding which of the two teams would merit an at-large berth if they ended up not winning the tournament title. They split in the regular season, with 22-win ASU finishing a game ahead in the standings to take the No. 2 seed.

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