The outright Pac-10 title didn't come easy for Cal on Saturday. But it indeed came, putting a nice shine on the Bears' first conference title in 50 years.
Final from Maples Pavilion: Cal 71, Stanford 61.
Tied at 44 early in the second half, Cal needed its senior-laden squad to answer Stanford's intensity. Fittingly, Patrick Christopher took charge in what was his school-record 129th career game. No. 23 finished with 23 points and keyed the Bears' second-half surge.
Stanford's Landry Fields had a respectable 25 points and outplayed his fellow Pac-10 Player of the Year candidate Jerome Randle, who made only 2 of 10 field-goal attempts and finished with 11 points.
As the final seconds tickeed away Christopher embraced everyone he could find, including Field at midcourt.
Meanwhile, in the upper level sections of Maples behind the baskets, Cal fans stood in applause, its band played in the rafters and coach Mike Montgomery walked off toward the basket where a nearby Stanford banner displays the four Pac-10 titles he won as Cardinal coach.
Cal assured itself at least a share of that championship a week earlier by defeating Arizona State. When the Sun Devils beat UCLA 56-46 Saturday, Cal had to defeat its storied rival for the outright crown and strengthen its case for a second straight NCAA Tournament berth.
A tight contest might be what Cal needs to get into postseason shape. Pressure and anxiety will greet Cal in the NCAA Tournament (once it maneuvers through the Pac-10 tourney next week).
Christopher made it not so tight. He hit back-to-back, long-range jumpers to give Cal a 61-52 lead with 5:48 remaining.
Stanford (13-1, 7-11) refused to go quietly, and it pulled to within 61-57 on a Drew Shiller three-pointer.
When Christopher nailed a 3-pointer of his own with 2 ½ minutes remaining, Cal had a 67-59 lead and the Pac-10 title secure.
This was Cal's seventh win in eight games, and even though the Bears emerged with a 10-point win, that is their smallest margin of victory in that span.
Jamal Boykin scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half for Cal and provided nice defense in the post in the game's waning minutes. Theo Robertson added nine points to the victorious cause.
Cal's scariest moment came when it had a 7-point lead with 7 ½ minutes remaining. What was so concerning: Sparkplug Jorge Gutierrez hobbled off the court with a sprained left ankle. His sticky defense had made its usual appearance earlier to irritate Stanford's offense.
Cal's last conference title came in 1960 via their fourth straight Athletic Association of Western Universities crown.
Cal is going to have to shoot better than Saturday if it is going to have a chance at anymore championship banners this season. The Bears made 25 of 59 shots (42.4 percent) and 3 of 14 three-point tries.
But they were the ones that emerged victorious at Maples, and they are the only one claiming Pac-10 title rights this season.