California loses to Syracuse 66-60 in NCAA tourney
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Wherever Allen Crabbe went, Syracuse’s zone defense followed.
With the Pac-12 Player of the Year bottled up by the Orange, California had little chance to advance in the NCAA tournament despite having the home-crowd advantage.
Crabbe was held to eight points on 3-for-9 shooting, backcourt mate Justin Cobbs scored just five points and the 12th-ranked Golden Bears once again failed to make it to the round of 16, losing 66-60 to fourth-seeded Syracuse on Saturday night.
“They keyed in on me,” Crabbe said. “I mean, the shots that I thought I would probably get weren’t there. They took things away from me.”
With little offense from their only reliable outside shooter, the Bears (21-12) shot 4 of 21 on 3-pointers and made far too many mistakes with the ball trying to penetrate the zone to have any chance against the bigger and more athletic Orange (28-9).
Crabbe and Cobbs combined to shoot 5 for 18, and their 13 points were more than 21 below their season average. Even a career-best night from Richard Solomon, who had 22 points and 14 rebounds, couldn’t overcome that.
“The zone accomplished what it wanted to,” California coach Mike Montgomery said. “I was fearful that was going to happen. I knew where the strengths of the zone and what the weaknesses were. I wasn’t sure we had the personnel in a day to get done what we needed to get done.”
C.J. Fair scored 18 points and James Southerland added 14 for the Orange, who won despite going 12 minutes without a field goal on a night when they shot 39 percent from the field and missed 15 of 41 free throws.
But the zone defense frustrated Crabbe and the thousands of Bears fans who made the short drive to HP Pavilion to cheer on their team. Cal was trying to reach the round of 16 for the first time in 16 years and just the third time since 1960.
“Our defense was as good as you could ask it to be for a long time tonight,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “I mean, they weren’t getting shots.”
Boeheim earned his 50th career NCAA tournament win as the Orange reached the regional semifinals for the fourth time in five years. This might have been one of the ugliest of those wins as Syracuse struggled to make a basket in the second half, relying on strong play on the defensive end and a parade to the foul line.
The teams combined for just three made baskets in the first 10:50 of the second half and Syracuse went almost six minutes without even taking a shot as Cal committed seven shooting fouls in the opening 6:02. The Orange hit eight of those 14 free throws to extend their lead to 42-30, but went 12:13 without a basket from the field.
As frustrated as the Bears and their fans were with the lopsided foul count, Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense was even more confounding. Crabbe found no room to get off a shot, with Orange defenders closing quickly on him even when he caught the ball 25 feet from the basket.
“It’s like when a shark smells blood,” Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams said. “You just get excited and want to keep going and shut him down some more. We definitely got that feeling and it just pushed us to play defense more.”
Cobbs also struggled against the zone and even when Cal got the ball inside, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita were there to block or alter the shot.
“It’s going to be difficult playing against something you never played against before, because scout team can’t run it the way they run it,” Solomon said. “They’re long and athletic. You’ve got to give credit to Syracuse and the zone. It frustrated us a little bit.”
Cal managed to get a 14-point lead cut down to seven with less than five minutes to go, but Southerland and Carter-Williams answered with tough shots at the other end to quiet the crowd and keep Syracuse in control.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Crabbe and Tyrone Wallace got the deficit back down to 58-51 with 1:50 to go and Cal stole the inbound pass, but Crabbe stepped on the sideline to give the Orange the ball back.
Carter-Williams then drew a charge from Cobbs with a minute left and the Orange up seven. Keita’s dunk sealed the victory.
The selection committee did Syracuse no favors, making the Orange the only top-four seed sent cross-country for the opening weekend of the tournament. Making matters worse, this game was played about 50 miles from Cal’s campus in Berkeley, creating a decided home-court edge for the lower-seeded Bears.
The enthusiasm from the sold-out crowd did little to help Cal on the court in the early going as the Bears appeared jittery early. Cal turned the ball over on seven straight possessions early in the game and trailed 32-24 at halftime after Crabbe was limited to two shots.