California 62, Arizona St. 46
The students poured onto the court, the confetti rained down from the ceiling. The 50-year wait for a conference title at California had finally ended and it was time to celebrate.
The Golden Bears held Arizona State to two points in a span of more than 10 minutes late in the second half to clinch at least a share of the Pac-10 title with a 62-46 victory Saturday.
``It was crazy. We didn't expect all that to occur,'' senior Theo Robertson said of the raucous postgame celebration. ``Being out there with the fans, your teammates and the coaches, the whole confetti, cutting down the nets. It was a crazy experience and awesome to be a part of it.''
Patrick Christopher and Jamal Boykin scored 14 points each for the Bears (20-9, 12-5 Pac-10), who went on a 18-2 run in the second half to break open a close game and coast to the title.
Then came the celebration that was punctuated when second-year coach Mike Montgomery cut the last strand of the net and held it up to the cheering crowd on his 63rd birthday.
``It was very pleasing to see this group of seniors grow like they have together,'' said Montgomery, who won four Pac-10 titles at Stanford. ``It hasn't always been all for one, one for all. But down the stretch they really came together and played to win. If we can play like this, we're pretty good.''
Cal hadn't won a conference title since winning its fourth straight in 1960 under coach Pete Newell, when they played in the Athletic Association of Western Universities. The Bears last went to the Rose Bowl following the 1958 season, giving fans little to celebrate in the school's two major sports for a half-century.
The Bears can clinch the outright championship by winning at Stanford next Saturday or if Arizona State loses one of its final two games. The Sun Devils (20-9, 10-6) need to sweep and have Cal lose to the Cardinal to share their first title since joining the conference in 1978-79.
``I reminded them that we still have two games left and that needs to be our focus, not whether Cal's going to win or lose,'' Arizona State Herb Sendek said. ``We can only represent and control ourselves, so whether Cal wins or loses is outside of our world.''
While no team in the weak Pac-10 is assured of an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, Cal improved its position for a bid if it does not win the conference tournament in Los Angeles next month. The Bears are assured of the top seed in the tournament because they swept ASU.
``It's a great feeling,'' Boykin said. ``But we still have to win this last game I feel this team can accomplish so much. I think all the feelings will kick in when the season is over and we look back on all the things we accomplished.''
Cal hadn't been this close to a conference title since 1994, when Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray had the Bears in position to tie Arizona for the championship crown on the last day of the season before losing at Washington State. The atmosphere reflected that, with raucous Haas Pavilion being sold out for the first time all season.
The Bears gave the fans plenty to cheer about in the second half. They trailed by one at the break but took control quickly after Derek Glasser missed a layup on the opening possession for Arizona State.
Jorge Gutierrez started the key run when he flipped in a layup for a three-point play that gave Cal a 47-42 lead. Robertson converted a three-point play of his own after an offensive rebound.
After a basket by Jerren Shipp and two missed free throws from Eric Boateng, Boykin hit three straight baskets to make it 59-44 with 3:45 to go.
``Against a high-octane offense like that you can't afford to have slippage, especially on the defensive end because when you're not making shots you start thinking about it on the defensive end and they really make you pay for it,'' guard Ty Abbott said.
The four senior starters - Christopher, Boykin, Robertson and Jerome Randle - got a standing ovation when they were taken out in the final minute. They then went to cut down the nets. Robertson had 13 points and Randle scored only seven.
Shipp scored 14 points to lead Arizona State. The Sun Devils scored only two points in a span of more than 10 minutes to see their chances at the conference title and tournament bid take a serious hit. Victor Rudd's dunk with 31 seconds left ended the drought and provided the final margin in the loss.
It was an emotional day for the Bears, who honored the four senior starters and backup Nikola Knezevic before their final home games of their career.
``It was real emotional when I first stepped on campus today knowing this would be the last time I'd approach this arena and play in front of this crowd,'' said Randle, who needs 44 points to pass Sean Lampley as Cal's all-time leading scorer. ``It was great come out to end it on a great note.''
Among the dignitaries on hand for the big game were former Cal point guard and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, Lampley and former Cal linebacker Scott Fujita, who won the Super Bowl earlier this month with New Orleans.