Cal Falls Short of Deacons, Garden

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GREENSBORO, N.C. - The play is over. The curtain has lowered. And the show has ended one stop short of the Big Apple.

Some 600 miles from the glitz and glamour of Madison Square Garden in New York - the home of the National Invitation Tournament final four - the Cal men's basketball team took on a bigger, heavier Wake Forest squad two Fridays ago in the third round of the NIT.

Bigger, heavier and all-around better.

The Demon Deacons of the Atlantic Coast Conference - who went on to conquer North Carolina State and Notre Dame for the NIT crown - soundly defeated the Bears, 76-59, at the Greensboro Coliseum, sending Cal through the same exit gates it so deftly avoided one year ago.

The Bears rode the leadership of four senior starters and then-sophomore Sean Lampley to their NIT championship last March.

They tried to duplicate that success against Wake Forest and become the first repeat NIT Champions since St. John's back in 1944.

But as they and the rest of the NIT field found out - and what the Deacons were only the latest team to expose - is that Lampley without a good supporting cast is like the little engine that almost could.

Almost could make the Big Dance, almost could win the Little Dance.

The junior forward had the half of his life against Wake Forest, pushing aside every player the Deacons threw his way. It didn't matter whether it was Josh Shoemaker or Darius Songaila guarding him. He scored 16 points and pulled down seven rebounds in the first half alone.

But there weren't four players on Cal's team that came close to delivering the performance that Lampley and the Bears needed to extend their postseason.

"You have to have team effort and you have to be on all cylinders to be on the same page," Bears coach Ben Braun said after the loss. "It's important to raise your level of play against good teams, and when you play a one-and-out on the road, it's very difficult.

"Nick (Vander Laan), Solomon (Hughes) and (departing sophomore Shahar Gordon) struggled offensively today. Each guy had opportunities (under the basket) and didn't finish, and that put a lot of pressure on us."

The trio of centers combined for three points - all by Vander Laan - on 1-for-11 shooting in 21 minutes.

More importantly, they were outhustled and outmuscled for offensive and defensive rebounds and loose balls, making it easy for the Deacons to not only withstand Lampley's first-half onslaught, but also take a 39-31 lead into the locker room at halftime.

"We were just playing soft, mentally and physically," said Bears forward Ryan Forehan-Kelly, whose only basket came on a wide-open jumper in the game's early minutes. "You got to have position and be strong enough to get the ball."

Once Wake Forest's unfamiliar zone defense began to collapse on Lampley in the second half, the Bears knew they were in serious trouble. The junior managed just three more points in the game on 0-for-6 shooting, and Cal went cold right along with him, finishing the contest shooting at a 34 percent clip.

With the exception of Joe Shipp, who had the hot hand late in the first half and in the early in the second en route to 17 points and five rebounds, only point guard Shantay Legans managed to score in the double digits (10 points, four assists).

Cal's defense, which one game earlier had limited Georgetown to 27.7 shooting from the field, failed the Bears the stretch against the Deacons.

After the former Cal recruit Songaila nailed two free-throws with 16:44 left in the game to put Wake Forest up by 11, the Bears could only get within seven points of the Deacons. Songaila finished the game with 12 points, while guard Robert O'Kelley paced the squad with 18 points, 13 of which came in the first half.

"We were scoring baskets when we needed to, but we weren't stopping anyone defensively, we were trading baskets with them," Lampley said. "We missed easy layups and we didn't finish. (Those are) the little mistakes that have been the tale of the whole season."


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