NCAA hoops: California pulls away for 77-62 win over Cardinals
By MARK LONG
AP Sports Writer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — California’s distractions seem about as distant now as the Pacific Ocean.
That disappointing loss in the Pac-10 tournament? Getting sent across the country to open the NCAA tournament? The suspension of a starter?
The Golden Bears overcame them all — and showed even more resiliency in the first round against Louisville.
Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson — Cal’s senior stars — stole the show, carrying the eighth-seeded Bears to a 77-62 victory over the No. 9 seed Friday night and advancing to the second round for the first time since 2003.
Randle and Robertson scored 21 points apiece, Christopher added 17 and the Bears (24-10) responded to everything the Cardinals (20-13) could muster in the South Regional game at Veterans Memorial Arena.
Their reward? No. 1 seed Duke on Sunday.
The Bears don’t want to think about that one just yet. They’d rather savor this victory. There was plenty to enjoy, too.
They jumped out to an 18-point lead, watched Louisville whittle it down to six, then pulled back out front by 14. They watched that lead get cut to 62-58 with 6:55 remaining, then stepped on the gas for good. Cal finished the game on a 15-4 run.
Rakeem Buckles led Louisville with 20 points. Samardo Samuels added 16.
But the inconsistent Cardinals had no answers early and even less late. Coach Rick Pitino tried to foul Max Zhang in the final minutes, attempting to send the 50-percent free throw shooter to the line, but officials called Kyle Kuric for an intentional foul that got the coach’s blood boiling and led to a technical.
Randle and Zhang made their free throws, ending any thoughts of a late comeback.
Cal shot 51 percent from the field, even better from 3-point range (53.3 percent) and made 17 of 22 free throws. But the real damage came in the opening minutes.
The game was delayed 19 minutes because of a malfunctioning shot clock, but once it started, the Cardinals looked like the ones who needed repairs. They missed 11 of their first 13 shots and had no answer for the hot-shooting Bears.
Cal connected on seven of its first 10 shots, including four of six from 3-point range, and opened an 18-point lead with a little more than 6 minutes gone in the game.
Christopher, taking advantage of so much attention on Randle, hit three from behind the arc. Jamal Boykin dropped a couple of jumpers, Robertson chipped in five points and, all of a sudden, no one was questioning whether Cal would miss suspended forward Omondi Amoke.
Amoke was “temporarily suspended” for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Coach Mike Montgomery went with a three-guard lineup, starting Jorge Gutierrez. The move paid off, as Gutierrez hit a couple shots and dished out four assists in the first half.
Louisville, meanwhile, couldn’t seem to do anything right.
The Cardinals had three turnovers in their first eight possessions, got called for an intentional foul and even had a band member yelling, “Don’t be afraid to score.”
Pitino even seemed to get into a heated confrontation with an assistant coach during one timeout. Pitino was equally short-tempered with his players.
But they responded. After trailing 22-4, the Cards started getting to loose balls, creating turnovers, grabbing offensive rebounds and hitting 3s.
They really got things turned around with a 12-0 run that made it 30-24 with 6:48 remaining in the half. Edgar Sosa hit a jumper in the lane, Buckles got a steal and a layup, Samuels got an easy one in the paint and then Jared Swopshire and Buckles hit 3-pointers.
But Cal cranked it back up. Randle made two free throws, Christopher hit a 12-footer and then Randle drained a long-range 3 at the buzzer. He missed his first two shots from behind the arc, but this one swished the net and had Louisville’s players shaking their heads as they headed to the locker room.
They never really recovered.