Cal befuddled by Syracuse zone in 95-73 defeat |

Cal befuddled by Syracuse zone in 95-73 defeat

Dave Skretta, The Associated Press

NEW YORK – Scoop Jardine scored a career-high 22 points, Wes Johnson had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Syracuse raced past No. 13 California 95-73 on Thursday night in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic.

Arinze Onuaku added 12 points for the Orange, who made Madison Square Garden feel like home in the tournament benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. Syracuse will play No. 6 North Carolina or No. 15 Ohio State for the championship on Friday night.

Thousands of orange-clad faithful scattered around the arena had plenty to cheer about.

Syracuse confounded the Bears (2-1) from the tip with coach Jim Boeheim’s trademark zone defense, building a double-digit lead by halftime.

The Orange then put the game away with a brutally efficient 15-4 run early in the second half, taking a 64-41 lead on Brandon Triche’s three-point play with just over 15 minutes left.

The final could have been much more lopsided if not for Cal star Jerome Randle, who hit a 3-pointer during a 9-0 spurt and tried vainly to rally his team back.

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Randle finished with 25 points, while Jamal Boykin had 14 and Patrick Christopher 12.

Cal reached the NCAA tournament in coach Mike Montgomery’s first season, and with four seniors in the starting lineup, was picked to win the Pac-10 title and a trendy choice for the Final Four.

The Bears struggled past Murray State in their opener, though, and looked even more uncomfortable against the more physical team from the Big East. Even when Cal managed to get the ball inside of that suffocating zone defense, the massive bodies of Syracuse forwards Onuaku and Rick Jackson made the going unpleasant.

On one trip down the floor in the first half, Omondi Amoke and Markhuri Sanders-Frison had shots stuffed seconds apart, and the fast break led to an easy layup by Jardine.

It looked a lot like the Orange the last time they played in the Garden, when Jonny Flynn and Co. were going six overtimes to beat Connecticut in the Big East tournament and taking Louisville to the wire in overtime before losing the championship game.

They lost their top three scorers from that team, including Flynn, and few outside the program harbored big expectations this season. But Triche, a freshman who grew up near campus, is already playing beyond his years at the point, and some veterans are plugging the rest of the holes.

Jardine is pain-free after missing his sophomore season with a stress fracture in his left leg, while Johnson has provided an inside-outside threat after sitting out a season following his transfer from Iowa State.