Cal looks to end Pac-10 title drought
BERKELEY – When Jerome Randle finishes his college career at California some time in the next few weeks, he will leave Berkeley with his name all over the school record book.
He is closing in on becoming the all-time leading scorer for the Golden Bears, has the third-most assists and the most 3-pointers.
There’s one other accomplishment that can top all of those for Randle. That’s being a part of the school’s first conference championship in 50 years.
“It’s great to be able to break a lot of records,” he said. “But I think it’s more important to get this for the team. Winning this championship would maybe put Cal on the map. Hopefully when I come back, they will continue to win multiple championships. We talked about it at the beginning of the season. We did talk about building a legacy. It starts right here.”
With wins at home this weekend against Arizona and Arizona State, Cal (18-9, 10-5) will clinch at least a share of its first Pac-10 title since 1960 and the top seed in next month’s conference tournament.
It’s a drought that stars like Kevin Johnson, Jason Kidd, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Lamond Murray were unable to snap.
“That would mean the world,” forward Jamal Boykin said. “You come back to school 10, 20 years from now and you were the team that was the first to win the Pac-10 championship. That would mean a lot to me and everyone on this team.”
The Cal players hope the rest of the campus feels the same way. Randle has been encouraged by the e-mails he has gotten recently from fellow students he doesn’t even know expressing their excitement for what the team has accomplished so far this season.
But the Bears have yet to sell out a single game all year and are averaging only 71.7 percent capacity at 11,877-seat Haas Pavilion.
“I’d be really disappointed if we don’t sell out,” Randle said. “We’re going for something big here. I’m hoping this campus is excited to see what’s going to happen. I’m hoping we come in here and there’s not one seat empty.”
Winning the Pac-10 would be nothing new for coach Mike Montgomery, who won four regular season titles during his tenure at Stanford. Montgomery has taken just two seasons at Cal to put the Bears in position to win another.
He said he will talk to his team about what’s at stake but wants to keep the focus on what it will take to beat Arizona on Thursday.
“We’re kind of talking global things and I’m thinking more of the day to day,” he said.
His players are heeding that warning, having already lost at Arizona last month and at home to UCLA on the second weekend of the conference season. They know one bad weekend can ruin all they have accomplished up until this point.
“It’s a great feeling knowing we’re in striking range now,” Boykin said. “We’re right here. If we play our game to the best of our ability we can be the Pac-10 champions. The main focus right now is Arizona. They beat us already. We know they’re a very capable team. We have to make sure we’re prepared and focus solely on that game at this point.”
While being in position to win the Pac-10 regular season title this late in the season would usually mean an NCAA tournament bid was locked up, that’s no sure thing this season.
No team in the Pac-10 is assured of an at-large bid this year, with everyone having at least eight losses.
Cal has the most impressive resume in the conference with an RPI in the top 25 thanks to a tough nonconference schedule. But the Bears lack impressive wins. They lost nonconference games to three teams currently in the top 10 of the poll – No. 1 Kansas, No. 4 Syracuse and No. 9 Ohio State and have no wins against teams currently in the top 50 of the RPI.
While winning the conference regular season title would not guarantee a bid, it would strengthen Cal’s case. That’s the only focus right now for the players.
“I haven’t heard anything about the NCAA tournament from anyone on this team all year,” forward Theo Robertson said. “My mindset is on the Pac-10. If we take care of business, everything else will fall into place.”
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