Dominance at Haas Gives Bears a Perfect Ten

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Once finals were completed, the Cal men's basketball team continued its dominance at home, going undefeated at Haas Pavilion heading into its Jan. 17 matchup with Washington 10-0 at home.

Wins came in every way imaginable. There was the anticlimactic blowout of an overmatched Mount St. Mary's squad. The Bears toppled Harvard before coming out on top of a game Penn State team.

Both teams had their moments with a last-second three from senior Dennis Gates being the difference as Cal triumphed 76-73.

Since being moved into the starting lineup, Gates' defensive intensity has rubbed off on teammates. The Bears' top perimeter defender has also become more of an offensive threat.

"This guy is taking charges, he's helping out, he's boxing out and he's probably the smallest guard we've got in the lineup," Cal coach Ben Braun said of Gates. "He's constantly boxing out, battling for rebounds. It rubs off."

In the biggest victory by far, Cal overcame the stranglehold Stanford has held in its series with the Bears and defeated the Cardinal, 68-54, Jan. 6 in front of a raucous Haas crowd. Two days earlier, Stanford had turned a close contest into the rout it was accustomed to against Cal with an 82-62 win at Maples Pavilion.

The Bears came away victorious, despite missing center Solomon Hughes, who at press time had missed four games with a strained knee. Freshman Jamal Sampson continued to provide solid play inside and fellow frosh Amit Tamir made his debut against Harvard and has made an immediate impact.

Tamir didn't play in Cal's first eight games while saddled with an NCAA-mandated suspension for playing with professionals in his native Israel.

The player whose impact isn't measured by statistics or his 5-foot-10, 160-pound stature is sophomore A.J. Diggs. The walk-on made the first start of his career against Oregon State, replacing incumbent Shantay Legans, and knocked down a jumper in the waning seconds to secure the Bears' first road win of the season.

Cal usually doesn't look to Diggs for offense, his specialty is pressuring the opposing ball handler and coming up with timely steals when the Bears seem to need them. It's his work without the ball which has Braun giving him more playing time.

"A.J. Diggs is starting to play more because he's a very good defender," Braun said.

Diggs and Gates have proven to be a solid defensive tandem while Braun has mixed things up lately, pairing Diggs with Legans at the same time. Diggs' clincher against the Beavers came on a pass from Legans.

But this stretch hasn't been just about defense as more than one player has stepped up to provide some scoring. Forward Joe Shipp got on track after a rough start and leads Cal with 15.1 points per game.

Ryan Forehan-Kelly's 19 points paced the Bears in their win over the Card. Tamir dropped in 19 in a loss to Oregon Jan. 10 and Hughes led the team with 19 against the Nittany Lions.

What will be the key to the Bears' push for a second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament will be how it plays on the road. At press time, Cal is 1-3 away from Haas and the Pac-10 features some of the hardest buildings to play in.

Fortunately, trips to Oregon and Stanford are already behind the Bears. But games this week at UCLA and USC and at Arizona in March still loom.

Should Cal improve on the road and continue to excel at Haas, and make a strong showing in the Pac-10 Tournament in March, the Bears will have the opportunity to improve on its first-round NCAA exit of 2001.


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