Coach Tony Bennett doesn't need anyone reminding him how tough it is to win on the road in the Pac-10. His Washington State Cougars (12-11, 4-7) lost both ends of their trip to northern California, falling to the Cal Bears (18-6, 7-4) Saturday night in Berkeley, CA, 71-63.
Both teams played outstanding basketball from the opening tap through to the final buzzer. In the end, Cal made shots down the stretch that forced WSU to attempt quick strikes.
If you haven't followed the Cougs much this season, here's a fact. WSU doesn't have a quick strike offense.
You'd never know by looking at the stat sheet that this game was a series of runs by both teams. The Bears had the most effective run, closing out the game outscoring WSU down the stretch 11-3.
When Washington State has four players scoring in double figures, while holding their opponents to just three players racking up double-digits, you'd think the Cougs would win.
Not in Berkeley on Saturday night.
Coach Mike Montgomery managed his team to perfection, getting the right players on the court at the right time to effectively counter every maneuver by Coach Bennett.
Cal guard Jerome Randle and sharpshooter Theo Robertson both had a game-high 20 points. They were a combined 12-19 from the floor, going 5-7 from beyond the arc. Few of their shoots were wide open looks.
The pair weren't rattled, playing with the confidence necessary to win conference games. In other words, they knocked down some tough shots.
The Cougs back court played a very nice game as well. Senior Taylor Rochestie led WSU with 19 points and his mate, freshman Klay Thompson added another 15. They were an impressive 13-21 from the floor and 7-12 from beyond the arc.
It was one of those games where both teams fought hard and deserved a win.
Coach Bennett went with an experienced lineup much of the game. Freshmen DeAngelo Casto and Mike Harthun saw limited playing time in the first half. The only freshman to make it on to the floor in the second half was Thompson.
Coach Montgomery took full advantage when the Cougs had Nic Koprivica and Daven Harmeling in the lineup. Both players clearly have lost confidence in their shot, allowing the Bears to overplay on defense. Cal wasn't going to challenge Koprivica or Harmeling, virtually daring them to shoot the ball.
The Cougs might have had an advantage inside on offense when Coach Montgomery opted to go with a small, quick lineup. Senior Aron Baynes had a size advantage that went to waste. WSU failed to get Baynes touches where he could go to work with his smooth hook shot.
That may have been the difference in the end.
The Cougs settled for jump shots most of their possessions. On one hand, that was just fine given the fact that they shot an excellent 56 percent.
However, by not working in the paint, they failed to challenge the Bears. Cal ended the game with only had one player charged three personal fouls. That provided Cal the opportunity to play aggressive defense forcing turnovers.
Washington State shoot 100 percent from the foul line. Rochestie made the only free throw attempt the Cougs earned. And that didn't come until twelve minutes into the second half.
In the end, this game doesn't warrant second guessing. Cal played well enough to win, and they did. Washington State played well enough to win, and they didn't.
There are games like that.