BERKELEY -- A smartly-played contest between the nation’s top private and public universities should have been expected, but the outcome wasn’t -- at least by the 8,334 in attendance at Haas Pavilion on Saturday evening.
Harvard used a half-court offense, precision three-point shooting and an astute clock management style to defeat the California men’s basketball team on their home court to the tune of 67-62. The Crimson (7-4) -- who shot just 36.7 percent from the floor -- attempted 27 of their 60 shots from beyond the arc -- shooting 37.0 percent (10-for-27) from three. In stark contrast, the Bears (8-4) were 0-for-6 from three-point range, and shot 47.2 percent (25-for-53) from the field.
“We started off slow,” said junior forward Allen Crabbe. “They came out ready to play and we didn’t. They went on runs a couple of times and we had to play catch-up. We made plays, but then they made bigger plays. We made shots, but then they got shots ... You’ve just got to give them credit.”
Led by a diminutive freshman point guard, Siyani Chambers, and his game-high nine assists, Harvard used an up-tempo half-court style that used up nearly the entire shot clock on each possession. Each player in black and crimson manned a spot along the outer edge of the three-point arc and played catch with Chambers until he found the open man for the shot. Often, the shot clock was within 10 seconds of expiring before a Harvard player would make an attempt.
This offense seemed to befuddle Cal at times, who on occasion allowed back door, pick-and-roll, passes down low to go to an open man for an easy layup. Those easy buckets coupled with Harvard’s three-point ability put the Bears in deficits of nine points twice in the second half, and kept them trailing for nearly the entire game.
“They play five out, and they are not in any hurry to shoot the ball,” said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery when talking about the Harvard offense. “They just pass, pass, pass, pass, pass; We knew it was going to be a problem. We made some mistakes on defense of helping off when we shouldn’t have off a three-point shooter. That was mental mistakes. We were chasing smaller players ... 10 three’s -- we got zero, and they got ten; that’s tough.”
Two players scored in double figures for the Crimson. Junior off guard Laurent Rivard led with 19 points (5-12 FG, 5-12 3PT, 4-4 FT) and was followed by sophomore swingman Wesley Sanders with 18 points (6-13 FG, 2-3 3PT, 4-4 FT) on the night.
Crabbe led all scorers with 27 points (10-18 FG, 0-2 3PT, 7-7 FT), had team-highs of seven rebounds and two steals, and played the entire 40 minutes of the ball game.
Due to injuries to Brandon Smith (concussion), Ricky Kreklow (ankle), and Christian Behrens (ACL), Montgomery was forced to alter his lineup and play his top guys more than he would normally do. This led to both Crabbe and guard Justin Cobbs cramping up towards the end of the game. Crabbe went down under the basket with a right leg cramp, but stayed in the game, and just minutes later, Cobbs also went down in the paint -- but both of his legs had cramps, forced him to leave the game for a spell.
Along with Crabbe, two other Bears scored in double digits -- Cobbs with 15 points (7-13 FG, 0-2 3PT, 1-2 FT) and David Kravish with 12 points (6-9 FG). On defense, junior big man Richard Solomon had a game-high five blocks to go with six rebounds for Cal.
The Bears began the game cold, making just one basket in their first seven tries. Harvard took advantage of the cold start with two three’s and a free throw shot to get out in front 7-2 at the 15:41 mark.
The Bears were sluggish to go along with being cold in the first half. The Crimson had a 19-15 rebound advantage and had forced the Bears into seven turnovers by the halftime break. Despite Solomon’s four blocks to open the game, Cal was unable to put Harvard on their heels, and as seconds ticked off the clock, the visiting team began to get settled in and gain confidence against their Pac-12 foe.
That confidence was never more on display than in the final minute of the half. After the Bears had clawed to within two points, the Crimson relied on defense to take a seven-point halftime lead, 33-26. Chambers hit a three to make it a five-point lead with 30 seconds to go, and give the Bears a chance at the last offense of the half.
Cal freshman guard Tyrone Wallace took the ball up to the arc, attempted a no-look pass to Kravish -- who had already started towards the baseline -- and the ball was stolen by Harvard’s sophomore swingman Sanders -- who raced up court on the break and awkwardly laid it while twisting away from Wallace’s attempted block -- closing out the half with a huge momentum swing for the Crimson.
To open the second half, Cal continued to struggle, but were able to inch back into the game while Harvard had its own problems. After four minutes of play, the Bears had put together a 6-2 run to get to within three points, 35-32 -- only to see Rivard stroke a three to put the Crimson up 38-32 eight seconds later. Cal answered with a jumper by Crabbe and a layup by Cobbs to get within two points, 38-36, with 14:34 to go.
Six seconds later, one of the stranger technical fouls was called on the Cal bench -- more specifically on Montgomery. On the other side of the court from Cobbs’ layup, Montgomery was a couple of feet past the out of bounds line onto the court and was whistled for being in play.
“That was, I was cheering my team to get to two and I was yelling, ‘Come on, let’s go, let’s get a stop,’” said Montgomery of the cause for the foul. “That was revisionist history. Things are changing with the officials right now. It’s a whole deal. Apparently, everyone got the memo. I didn’t.”
The momentum that Cal had been building to get back to within striking distance of Harvard evaporated after the technical foul. Over the next two minutes, the Crimson went on a 8-1 run to take a commanding nine-point advantage with just 12:24 remaining.
The Bears battled back before letting the game get out of control, with Cobbs and Crabbe ignited the comeback -- Cobbs had four points, one rebound, and one assist, while Crabbe had five points and three rebounds to help the Bears tie up the game at 46 with 9:49 to play. It was only the second time the two teams were tied and the first time since the 3:21 mark of the first half.
Harvard would take the lead, and Cal would come back and tie the score twice more, and even take a one-point lead, 62-61, with just under two minutes left in the game. Kravish, who put the Bears up with a layup just a possession before, was whistled for a foul on Saunders -- who sank both of his opportunities from the charity stripe to put the Crimson back on top for good with 1:13 to go.
With 56 seconds to go, and Cal down by just a point, Cobbs was called for a charge that was, at best, questionable. While attempting to get to a spot on the floor, Chambers hovered in front of Cobbs, and then appeared to flop as Cobbs got to his spot. While it didn’t fool Cobbs or many others in the gym, the official fell for it and gave the ball back to Harvard – who didn’t attempt a shot until Chambers a three with 25 seconds remaining.
“He’s smarter than I am, and he used that to his advantage,” said Cobbs about the play of his counterpart. “He was able to flop a few times.”
Instead of the Bears getting the last possession off of Chambers’ miss, forward Travis Jonah got the rebound to ice the game.
“It was a sensational win for the program,” said head coach Tommy Amaker, a disciple of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. “Coming in here after traveling for the holidays, playing against an outstanding basketball team, I thought our kids did a magnificent job. They showed a great deal of poise and composure.”