Cal Up Down the Stretch

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There were five minutes left in the Georgetown game at Haas Pavilion Wednesday night, and Cal fans began to prepare.

A quick swig of Maalox - or liquor for the more jaded - a cynical groan, a pained look at one another, and they were ready. They began to wait.

And wait.

And look at one another, and wait some more.

When the Bears had gone up by nine with 46 seconds left, they let out an explosive sigh of relief. Or perhaps disbelief.

It was hard enough to believe that their team had outlasted an opponent as time wound down. But when the powers that be in college hoops have decreed that Cal was not allowed to put an opponent away (read: UCLA), how did the Bears pull away down the stretch?

"As we got into the Pac-10 and teams got more familiar with you and know you, we had some games where we just didn't have the experience, the confidence (to finish off an opponent)," Cal coach Ben Braun said. "When you're in some close games, you develop that - what you must do, what you must not allow your opponent to do. You make someone else beat you."

The Bears didn't just not allow themselves to be beaten - they played to win rather than not to lose. Forward Sean Lampley scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half, but the star of Cal's two-minute drill was clearly point guard Shantay Legans.

The freshman was a bolt of energy down the stretch. He made four assists in the second half, including a pretty no-look pass to a cutting Ryan Forehan-Kelly for a layup. Legans also showed some unselfishness - he passed up an easy fast-break layup to dish off to trailing Joe Shipp, who finished with a two-hand dunk to give the Bears a nine-point lead with 3:35 left.

But it was Legans' decisions that caught Braun's attention. It was a far cry from his ill-advised lob at Washington State that resulted in a turnover and allowed the Cougars to get back into the game and eventually win in overtime.

"Shantay's decision-making has been better," Braun said. "Down the stretch he moved the ball, avoided traps (and) utilized his teammates a little more. The longer the year goes, the more you should get familiar, but it takes time, especially with all the new faces we have."


As pleased as he was with the production he got from his backcourt and Legans in particular, Braun must be perplexed by his big men. Centers Nick Vander Laan and Solomon Hughes combined for just six points and six rebounds against the huge Georgetown front line.

Sean Lampley excepted, Cal's big men have not been effective lately. Vander Laan has had the worst trouble of the group after looking like a young Mark Madsen early in the Pac-10 season.

"With Nick, there's not a lot of in between there," Braun said. "He's either there or he's not. If he's struggling in one area, it's rushing himself."

A win Friday would also send the Bears to the National Invitation Tournament final four in New York without reserve center Shahar Gordon.

The Israeli national will play tomorrow, but will return to Israel Saturday to begin fulfilling his military commitment.


For a team that only had two nonconference road trips, the 3,000-mile trek to face Wake Forest in Greensboro, N.C. can be daunting.

But according to Braun, big-time travel budgets go with big-time programs.

"You're going to play in a national game, you're going to (travel)," he said. If you're playing in these kind of games, and certainly if you're playing in the NCAA, you can get shipped anywhere. If you don't have the ability to get off a plane and play a day later, you're not going to get anywhere."


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