The California Golden Bears entered Thursday night just two wins away from their first Pac-10 championship in 50 years. In order to accomplish their goal and end the streak, the Bears needed to stave off traditional Pac-10 powerhouse Arizona.
With Cal jumping out to a quick 24-point lead, the Bears seemed to be in cruise control: guards Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher were draining 3's, and the Cal defense was suffocating the Arizona attack.
Then Arizona mounted a rally.
A 14-2 run to end the half cut the Bears' lead to only 12, and had the Haas crowd of 10,545 feeling slightly anxious. Despite an early hot streak, the Bears grip on the Wildcats' throats was slipping, as was the championship.
But on a senior laden team with high expectations, who would step up to turn Arizona away? Who would keep the Bears in the driver’s seat for the ultimate goal?
As the story goes all year, it was the little guy.
With Arizona cutting the lead to eight to start the second half, Randle was a possessed man, and took complete control.
A string of three 3-point shots in 90 seconds immediately boosted Cal's lead to 18. A miraculous Randle layup while suffering a hard foul effectively put Arizona away. When Arizona got close, Randle took charge, scoring 17 points to open up the first 7:21 of the second half.
Like the entire year, when the Bears were threatened, Randle has boosted them through. And, after a 95-71 victory over the Wildcats, the Bears now find themselves one win away from at least a share of that evasive Pac-10 championship.
When Randle was questioned about potentially being named the conference player of the year, he quickly shook it aside.
“It'd be a great accomplishment. But what's important is getting that Pac-10 championship to Berkeley.”
And that is the needed mindset of the California basketball team. With the team just a victory over Arizona State away, the focus comes down to one game.
“We've got something to play for,” Head Coach Mike Montgomery said. “It's all right there in front of us. No reason to not leave everything on the floor.”
So it comes to this: one early afternoon game at Haas Pavilion.
And is there any doubt that the little man will lead them there?
“We just have to go out there, and play hard,” said Randle.
And that is just what he is going to do.
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