Web Extra: Shipp, Wethers Combine to KO Penn

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PITTSBURGH--It began with a bunch of brightly colored yellow shirts handed out last night as the Cal men's basketball team returned from dinner and exited its bus.

It grew a little louder with each ball Jamal Sampson and Solomon Hughes swatted away from the net in today's 82-75 win over Penn.

It rose a few decibels more as the first half came to a close and A.J. Diggs stole the ball for an easy layup, putting the Bears ahead 42-30 entering intermission.

And it exploded into a deafening roar in the second half when Joe Shipp drove into the lane, soared above the Quakers' Koko Archibong and slammed down a dunk that left

Archibong speechless, leveled on the court between Shipp's legs.

Cal sent its message loud and clear this afternoon: WATCH OUT FOR THE BEAR ATTACK.

Warming up in new shooting shirts with the words "BEAR ATTACK" written across the chest in bold, blue letters, the Bears entered today's game hungry to establish itself as a team worthy of its postseason bid.

Cal more than fulfilled its mission.

For one thing, the win proved that the Bears are tournament tough and talented enough to advance to Sunday's game against third-seed Pittsburgh, a 71-54 victor in today's first game against Central Connecticut.

The victory also showcased an identity that has been a whole season in the making: an aggressive, selfless, defensively-centered team that is finally gaining offensive momentum and consistency.

But most importantly, today's performance dispelled any doubts that this team is anything like last year's squad, which bowed out of the Big Dance earlier after a loss to Fresno State

"We're a lot more focused. We're prepared, ready, hungry," junior Brian Wethers said. "Last year we were just excited to be here, but this year we wanted to get a win under our belts and make a run in the tournament. We're confident right now."

Staff/Ben Miller
Ryan Forehan-Kelly tries to stop a pass from Jeff Schiffner (#4) to Ugonna Onyekwe (#1).

Wethers certainly has reason to be confident after finishing the game with 19 points, just one shy of Shipp's game-high 20. For the night, the Bears shot 52 percent compared to the Quakers' 42.1 percent from the floor.

Cal's two wings have come to life as of late and are finally providing the Bears with a steady scoring output. Their ability to post up, drive to the basket and sink the outside shot didn't make Penn's job guarding them particularly easy

"It was difficult when they posted up inside," Quakers guard Andrew Toole said. "They have a little size and we had to double up on their shooters. That made it tough."

Foul trouble also put a strain on Penn early on.

Ugonna Onyekwe and Koko Archibong both picked up two fouls in the first half and forced the Quakers (25-7) to find other offensive outlets aside from their two leading scorers.

Although both players rebounded in the second half and finished the game with a team-high 16 points a piece, Onyekwe and Archibong only combined for eight points in the first half which gave the Bears room to take control of the game.

"I think we did a good job of taking away their inside position," Bears coach Ben Braun said. "It gave us a little bit of a margin to play with in the second half. It made the climb for Penn a little more difficult."

Despite the uphill climb, the Quakers didn't pack up and leave.

Archibong who was 1-for-9 prior to intermission, pitched in 13 points in the second half and made a dunk with 5:13 left in the game to bring Penn within six, 63-57.

Staff/Ben Miller
Brian Wethers warms up before the game.

But Cal (23-8) responded with clutch play of its own. With the shot clock winding down, Shipp calmly walked on to the floor after a time out and drained his only three-pointer of the night to put the Bears up by nine with three minutes left to play.

"I got a great look," Shipp said. "I just took my time and stroked it."

But the highlight of the second half a turning point in the game was Shipp's monstrous jam with 12:26 left to play.

On the heels of a fast break and off a pass from Diggs, Shipp attacked the rim and made sure Archibong felt the impact. Standing over the flattened forward, Shipp flexed his arms and let out a scream, somewhat to his coach's dismay.

"I think I'll be turning off SportsCenter tonight," Braun said smiling and shaking his head. "I don't want (Shipp) to forget everything else he does."

While Shipp's play was certainly a demonstration of Cal's athleticism and individual talent, the Bears' play was mostly marked by unselfish passing and good ball movement.

Shantay Legans finished the game with 12 points and six assists. Legans 4-of-4 showing from the free-throw line also set the school record for consecutive free throws made. The junior's 34 surpassed Dan Lufkin's record of 31 set during the 1962-63 season.

Cal's performance from the charity-stripe as a team was also solid and the Bears shot 74.2 percent on 23-of-31 shooting to seal Penn's fate down the stretch.

Another plus for the Bears was the play of one of its freshman.

Showing no signs of first-year or tourney jitters, Sampson looked confident crashing the boards and denying the Quakers baskets. Sampson grabbed 10 rebounds in addition earning three blocks.

"His presence alone is a benefit," Wethers said of Sampson's influence on the game. "He's so long and athletic, it's hard for people to get around him. We're definitely a better team with him on it."

Today's win bumped the Bears' total to 23, tying Braun's first-season record when Cal went 23-9 and reached the Sweet Sixteen.

Only Sunday's game against a big, rough and tough Pittsburgh team will dictate whether or not the Bears' streak will continue.

"It's just another challenge that we're prepared to face," Braun said.


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