HP PAVILION – Cal knew it had a big challenge to overcome, facing the mighty Syracuse Orange and their star-studded roster.
Although the Golden Bears fought hard, they weren’t able to make enough baskets thanks to that vaunted zone defense of Syracuse.
C.J. Fair led four ‘Cuse players in double digits with 18 points as Syracuse advanced to the Sweet 16, holding off California, 66-60.
Some of the basketball experts picked Cal to pull an upset and that didn’t bother Fair one bit:
“Everyone has their own opinion. Charles (Barkley) is a character, he’s a West Coast guy so … I heard Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) picked Cal too, another West Coast guy. But it’s all right, we just love proving people wrong. And people are probably going to pick Indiana or whoever else we’re going to play so we like being the underdog and proving people wrong.”
In the loss, forward Richard Solomon led the Bears with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Guard Tyrone Wallace added 12 points. But Pac-12 player of the year Allen Crabbe was limited to just eight points on 3-of-9 shooting.
California head coach Mike Montgomery credited Syracuse using that zone defense to shutting down his team:
Cal Head Coach Mike Montgomery
“It’s unfortunate, obviously when you lose your last game. I don’t think we played our best basketball. A lot of that credit has to go to Syracuse. That zone hurt us, no question. We had a difficult time solving the zone. They did a great job of getting to Crabbe and locating him out in the thing and had us pretty well spaced out.”
Cal’s was a solemn and somber locker room — as you might expect — but players did take time to remember a memorable season full adversity they had to overcome.
Cal guard Allen Crabbe
Forward Robert Thurman told SFBay that in the early part of the season, the Bears played so poorly, they weren’t even likely a candidate to play in any post-season tournament:
Cal Forward Robert Thurman
Audio: Ryan Leong/SFBay
“When we were 3-4 in the Pac-12, we had some bad losses. People were doubting whether or not we’d even make the NIT. It really showed that if you played hard and if you believe, that you can get a lot of things done. … To me it’s inspirational to see a team come together in that way and really resurrect a season.”
Inside the numbers, Cal’s very solid defense prevented the Orange from making a basket for a 12 minute stretch, with Syracuse making only six shots in the second half. The Orange also had 15 missed free throws for the game, yet Cal managed to lose by just six points.
Cal guard Justin Cobbs
“Being so close and not playing to our potential we ought to take it as a learning experience and we know we’re going to get better. That’s what this tournament is about, getting better and getting experience and understanding what it takes to win games against teams that have that national notoriety.”
Near the end of the game, Cal had a chance to tie the game but just fell short.
Cal forward David Kravish
“I think we helped give it away, especially in the beginning. In the first half we really turned the ball over a lot. Someone told me we had seven straight possessions where we turned the ball over. … We’re playing great defense and that’s something we have to layer on top of for next year. “
Syracuse advances to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row and third time in four years.
The victory against Cal was the 50th NCAA Tournament win for Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. It puts him in sole possession of fourth place all-time, one ahead of Jim Calhoun (Northeastern, Connecticut). Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski tops the list with 80. Montgomery and Boeheim came into tonight’s game with 1,573 combined wins. Montgomery entered the game with 656 wins while Boeheim boasted 917. They rank ninth and second among active coaches, respectively. … Crabbe matched his second lowest point total of the season with eight points. Cobbs recorded a season-low five points.