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March 13, 2010

Huskies trump Bears in title game

LOS ANGELES -- Losing the Pacific-10 Conference Tournament Championship may sting now, but Cal senior Theo Robertson says it does little to shake the Bears' confidence going into the NCAA Tournament.

A late surge by Washington made the difference Saturday in the Huskies earning the Pac-10 Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with a 79-75 win at Staples Center. Washington players stormed the court at the final buzzer and saluted their fans seated in the stands.

Cal now shifts its focus to the NCAA Tournament. Selection Sunday takes place on Sunday, March 14.

"We only have one way to react and that's to get back to work," Robertson said. "We can't dwell on this loss. As much as we wanted to come out here and have a better performance and win a championship, there's a new season that's going to take place."

Washington led 77-71 off a Quincy Pondexter jumper with 1:02 remaining, but the Bears' Jerome Randle answered almost immediately, burrying a three-pointer near the top of the key. On the ensuing possession, Cal's Nikola Knezevic made a steal and the Bears called timeout for one final play with 11 seconds left.

Randle was fouled near half court with four seconds left. He made the first free throw, and intentionally missed the second. Senior Jamal had a chance at the rebound, but Randle committed a free throw violation to give the ball back to the Huskies.

Venoy Overton sank consecutive free throws to clinch Washington's conference tournament crown.

"Venoy could literally be 0-for-10 going into a game, but when the game's on the line he rarely misses," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.

Pondexter had a team-high 18 points for the Huskies, while Isaiah Thomas had 16.

The hot shooting touch that had carried the Bears to wins against Oregon and UCLA went missing against Washington. Cal made 41.7 percent of its shots (25-for-60), with just 26.3 percent from long distance (5-for-19).

The Bears did have some standout performers, though, specifically Boykin, who came through with a monster night.

The Duke transfer provided Cal with a go-to scoring option with 20 points and 14 rebounds-four boards coming on the offensive end.

Robertson kept up his recent strong play with 25 points, five rebounds and three assists. He had 20 points the night before versus the Bruins after scoring just five against the Ducks.

"Theo and Jamal kept us in the game with their play tonight," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said.

Randle had 12 points on an uncharacteristic 3-for-11 shooting. He picked up two early fouls, which limited his effectiveness, and forced Montgomery to rotate him in and out of the lineup to avoid picking up his third foul. He ended up with four fouls, with Washington focused on attacking Randle defensively.

"If anything, mentally, we were a little bit tardy in that we got several people with reaching fouls early," Montgomery said.

In two previous games, the Bears had taken the other team's best shot, only to respond with a flourish. On Saturday, the Huskies took Cal's shot and kept on pushing as two big runs-one by each side-helped determine the outcome in the second half.

Ahead 52-51, Washington reeled off a 9-1 run including a Pondexter three-pointer and consecutive lay-ups by Thomas-the latter lay-in part of a three-point play.

Washington led 61-52 with 11:21 remaining before Cal answered.

"We looked a little bit tired, if not physically, mentally just in terms of movement and so forth," Montgomery said. "I knew the three games (in) three days would be a little bit tough on us. We don't play a lot of people."

Cal ran off a 14-0 burst to take a 66-61 lead with 6:02 left with Boykin scoring seven of the points. On one play, he drove to the free throw line, drew the foul and swung his fist when the shot fell in.

But the Huskies weren't done yet.

Matthew Bryan-Amaning made a lay-up and Overton made a three-pointer while falling down in front of the Washington bench to even it at 66. The Huskies went up for good a short time later, 71-68, on a three-pointer from Elston Turner with 3:22 left.

Washington, considered a bubble team by prognosticators going in, assured themselves of a spot in the field of 65.

"We told each other, 'If we handle business, we don't need a committee to determine if we're good enough. We'll be automatically in,'" Pondexter said.

Pundits had even raised the possibility that only one Pac-10 team could be picked on Selection Sunday. Montgomery suggested that three teams -- Cal, Washington and possibly Arizona State -- deserved consideration.

Arizona State hurt its chances with its loss to Stanford on the first day of the conference tournament.

"Now we're going to have to sit and wait and see if they'll give Arizona State a tumble," Montgomery said.

Boykin, Randle and Robertson made the all-tournament team for the Bears, while Pondexter made it for Washington. Thomas was named most outstanding player.


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