January 5, 2009

Sun Devils fail to earn Bay Area sweep

Berkeley, Calif. - New coach, new star and a new personality.

If you haven't noticed already, this year's edition of the Cal basketball team is different.

Look no further than Sunday's 81-71 victory over No. 17 ASU for proof.

The Golden Bears (13-2, 2-0 Pac-10) have become the nation's best three-point shooting under Mike Montgomery - the Bay Area's own Benedict Arnold - who used to coach across the Bay at Stanford from 1986-2004.

Point guard Jerome Randle - listed generously at 5-feet-10-inches - has taken the reins of Cal's team this season with the departure of Ryan Anderson to the NBA.

Sunday, Randle exploded for 26 points and 10 assists, both career highs.

"Last year he just seemed like a facilitator," ASU forward Jeff Pendergraph said. "Now he's kind of the offense. Now it's his turn and he's doing a great job with his team."

Randle did most of his damage from behind the arc, but no 3-pointer hurt more than the one he hit with 2:13 left in the game.

After James Harden dunked one at the other end to cut Cal's lead to 71-69, Randle nailed the deep 3 despite getting fouled by ASU guard Ty Abbott.

Randle knocked down the free throw to convert the four-point play and effectively knocked the Sun Devils (12-2, 1-1) out of the game.

It was no secret that the Golden Bears would be hoisting it up from behind the arc. But stopping them? ASU found out how tough that can be.

"That was the biggest key; we had a hard time getting stops," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "They really took us apart. They're a very difficult team to defend … with three prolific shooters and all three guys can also go off the bounce."

Randle, along with guard Patrick Christopher and forward Theo Robertson went a combined 8-for-15 from behind the arc.

When comparing this year's Cal team to last year's, Pendergraph said the main difference is the absence of Anderson.

"They could shoot pretty good last year, just they kind of ran more stuff for Anderson," Pendergraph said. "[Now] it's not like they run any specific plays … they're shooting it and they're knocking them down."

Speaking of knocked down, ASU fans may have held their breath upon seeing Pendergraph fall to the floor in the first half.

Trying to post up, Pendergraph said he collided with Cal's Harper Kamp and strained his right knee. Pendergraph was replaced by Eric Boateng at the 7:45 mark in the half and went to the locker room for treatment.

Pendergraph returned after halftime and said his knee was sore throughout the rest of the contest. That was on top of a left ankle injury he said he incurred during Friday's 90-60 victory at Stanford.

Sendek said he thinks Pendergraph may have sprained his medial collateral ligament, but Pendergraph said he will keep playing "regardless."

"[I'll play] even if my leg is about to fall off," he said. "I have to. I don't have any more seasons left."

The teams traded buckets to start the game until Cal went on a 16-0 run. The Sun Devils looked to be rushing their offensive sets while Cal was on fire. It went 6-of-7 from the field during the run, and held a 29-17 advantage after Christopher's layup with 9:37 left in the half.

The Sun Devils didn't go away, though, and managed to go on an 11-2 run of their own before intermission. Rihards Kuksiks buried a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock, to tie the game up at 37-37 with one second left in the half.

Cal held a 67-59 lead with 9:20 left, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Harden brought ASU to within two. The Sun Devils couldn't inch any closer than that, until Randle's dagger sealed their fate for good.

Harden finished with 26 points and eight rebounds while Pendergraph and Kuksiks added 16 points apiece.

Abbott struggled, going 2-of-9 from the field, and managed just four points and two rebounds. In two games against Cal last season, Abbott hit a combined 15 3-pointers.

Christopher had 20 points for Cal, but he and Randle were the only Golden Bears to score in double figures. Cal shot 58 percent from the floor including 68.2 percent in the second half.

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