BERKELEY, Calif. — The public address announcer at Haas Pavilion pretty much summed things up as the time ticked off the clock in Saturday afternoon’s first-place showdown.
“And that is a conference championship.”
Judging by the crowd storming the court and the loads of confetti falling from the sky, it wasn’t the visiting ASU men’s basketball team celebrating the crown.
It was the California Golden Bears, who knocked off ASU 62-46 Saturday afternoon to win at least a share of their first Pac-10 title in 50 years.
ASU can still win a share of the conference championship if it wins out and Cal falls to Stanford next weekend.
“We don’t think Cal will go to Stanford and lose, so we got to play for second,” ASU senior guard Derek Glasser said. “If we sweep at home this weekend, we still have a chance at the NCAA Tournament. We’ll see what happens.”
Shots simply just didn’t fall for the Sun Devils (20-9, 10-6 Pac-10). The game and Pac-10 championship were hanging in the balance in the second half, and Cal stepped up to the challenge with an incredible defensive performance.
“We weren’t playing with a large margin for error,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said. “You’re always going to miss open shots and not convert during the game, but in a game like this, if you do it too much, you limit the possibilities that you have.”
On Senior Day in Berkeley, a sellout crowd came out to say goodbye to five seniors, including four starters.
The energy in the building was certainly against the Sun Devils, but in the first half, ASU was converting on its opportunities.
Trailing by three points early in the first period, ASU senior guard Jerren Shipp rattled off eight straight points to give the Sun Devils a 16-11 lead with 11:36 remaining before the break.
That five-point lead would quickly evaporate, as the final 10 minutes of the first half were mostly spent tied or with one of the teams ahead by two to three points.
A layup by Shipp gave ASU a 30-27 lead with 33 seconds left in the half, but Cal senior guard Jerome Randle hit a tough runner in the lane at the buzzer to cut ASU’s lead to 30-29 at the break.
The opening play of the second half was an ominous omen for the rest of the game.
A beautiful pass inside set up Glasser for a wide open layup, but he missed it.
After that miss, Cal went on a 6-0 run to take a 35-30 lead and brought the previously quiet building alive.
The Sun Devils then cut the lead to one, but Cal senior guard Patrick Christopher connected on a 3-pointer to make it 38-34 with 15:58 left.
Another sign of how the second half went for ASU happened right after Christopher’s bucket. On ASU’s next possession, freshman guard Trent Lockett was fouled, and his shot attempt rattled around the hoop before finally falling out. Lockett only made one of two free throws.
Then after getting a defensive stop, ASU senior center Eric Boateng had the same thing happen to him, watching his shot go halfway down but rattle out while being fouled. Boateng missed both free throws.
Instead of potentially getting six points on two possessions, ASU only got one and trailed by three.
ASU junior guard Jamelle McMillan’s 3-pointer cut Cal’s lead to 44-42 with 11:03 to play, and a great finish was expected.
But didn’t happen — that is when things began to spiral out of control for ASU.
The Golden Bears took control of the game with a 9-0 run and led 53-42 with 7:33 remaining. The run included two old-fashioned 3-point plays that Cal converted — something ASU couldn’t do just a few minutes earlier.
Shipp finally broke the run with a layup off an inbounds play, but that was just one bucket. Cal went on another 9-0 run to put the fork into ASU’s conference title hopes.
The Sun Devils scored just four points in the final 11 minutes of the game, going 2-of-14 from the field.
Add five missed free throws, and it is easy to see why Cal was celebrating at the end of the day.
“We didn’t convert when we had opportunities like we needed to,” Sendek said. “We missed free throws and we missed shots at the basket, and we just didn’t have that margin for error. Our inability to convert when we did have open looks and their outstanding defense made it difficult for us to put points on the board.”
While ASU missed open shots, nothing came easily, as Cal’s defense was swarming in the second half.
“They played with great focus, defensively, in the second half,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “I think that’s what contributed a little bit to that is they started to miss some, and when they started to miss some, it gave us some reinforcement for working that hard and that’s critical.”
Normally, somebody on ASU’s team is knocking down shots. But during the second half, nobody was.
Glasser, junior guard Ty Abbott and junior forward Rihards Kuksiks shot a combined 0-of-15 from beyond the arc, and as a team, ASU was 3-of-22.
“With each missed shot, it was like a blow to the chest,” Abbott said.
Shipp led ASU with a season-high 14 points. Abbott added eight and Lockett had seven.
The man that held Abbott down was Christopher. Not only was he outstanding on the defensive end, but he led the Golden Bears with 14 points. Cal senior forward Jamal Boykin also had 14, while senior forward Theo Robertson had 13.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org