The California Golden Bears got the victory they badly wanted and avoided the upset defeat they could not afford, so they remain alone in first place in the Pac-10.
Cal (17-8, 9-4) avenged its worst loss of the conference season, shredding Washington's defense in a 93-81 victory. Then the Bears rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit, outscoring Washington State 15-0 over the final four minutes in an 86-70 win.
Senior guard Jerome Randle exorcised demons in the win over UW, scoring 33 points a month after suffering his worst game of the season in Seattle. Randle shot 2-for-9 with eight turnovers in the Bears' 84-69 loss at UW.
"I had this game on my schedule," Randle said. "I just wanted to come out and be aggressive for my teammates. I think my teammates feed off of that."
Fellow senior Jamal Boykin said he was inspired by Randle's play. "You can't knock this man down," he said.
Same could be said for sophomore guard Jorge Gutierrez, now mostly recovered from a knee injury that knocked him out of six games in January. Put in the starting lineup for the Washington game, the Bears' defensive specialist totaled 25 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals in the two wins.
"This is what he does every day -- in practice or in the game," Randle said of Gutierrez's ferocity and energy. "He changes the game every time he's on the floor."
"He's a tough sucker, boy," added coach Mike Montgomery. "Once he locks into you, it's kind of like a personal war for him. Somebody says something to him, and he don't forget it. ... He gets after it."
--Cal out-rebounded Washington 24-7 over the opening 17 minutes of their game, and finished with a 37-30 edge on the boards against the Pac-10's top rebounding club.
--Even with Jerome Randle totaling 57 points in two games, the Bears had four players score in double figures against Washington and five against WSU.
ON THE SPOT: For Cal's four senior starters, this week's trip to Oregon may be the biggest of their careers. The Bears will be favored in both games, and they need to win both to assure themselves of returning home in first place. The Bears haven't swept the Oregon trip since 2005-06, and their dreams of winning the school's first conference championship in 50 years may depend on it.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're pretty pumped up. We haven't had a (road) sweep yet, so I'm calling sweep." -- Cal senior Patrick Christopher, predicting two victories this week in Oregon.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: As far as an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament is concerned, the Bears RPI separates them from the Pac-10 pack, thanks to robust strength-of-schedule rating that was the result of non-conference losses to Kansas, Syracuse, Ohio State and New Mexico. Road losses at Arizona and USC knocked them into a four-way tie for first place, but the Bears responded with a 72-58 win at UCLA, then a home sweep of the Washington schools, giving them sole possession of first place entering the final three weeks of the regular season.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Jamal Boykin, F Theo Robertson, G Jorge Gutierrez, G Patrick Christopher, G Jerome Randle. Key Subs -- C Markhuri Sanders-Frison, C Max Zhang, F Omondi Amoke.
Cal 72, UCLA 58
Cal 93, Washington 81
Cal 86, Washington State 70
at Oregon State, Thursday Feb. 18
at Oregon, Saturday, Feb. 20
vs. Arizona, Thursday, Feb. 25
vs. Arizona State, Saturday, Feb. 27
at Stanford, Saturday, March 6
IN FOCUS: The Bears will make their final trip to venerable McArthur Court on Saturday. Beloved and intimidating, "The Pit" will be closed after this season as the Ducks move into the new Matthew Knight Arena. But the Bears will have no time for nostalgia as they try to dispatch the erratic and potentially dangerous Ducks. Barring a meeting in the Pac-10 tourney, it's the final career matchup of Cal's 5-foot-9 Jerome Randle and Oregon's 5-7 Tajuan Porter.
--Senior PG Jerome Randle enhanced his bid for Pac-10 Player of the Year honors with 33 points against Washington and 24 against Washington State. He's shooting 19-for-36 from the 3-point arc over the past four games and has moved into the No. 3 spot on Cal's career scoring list with 1,680 points.
--Senior F Jamal Boykin may have played the best two-game set of his Cal career, with 20 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Washington, then 18 points and 11 rebounds against WSU. He shot 13-for-18 for the two games.
--Sophomore F Omondi Amoke injured his left shoulder in the win over Washington and played just three minutes against WSU. His status for the Oregon trip is unclear.