Six years after leaving Stanford for the NBA, Mike Montgomery returned to Maples Pavilion on Saturday and won a Pac-10 Conference regular season championship.
This time, he did so as coach at rival Cal, which beat the Cardinal 71-61 to wrap up its first outright league title in 50 seasons.
"I know he wanted the win. I'm just glad we came in and did what we needed to do," Cal senior Jerome Randle said. "We did it for coach, and we did it for ourselves."
The Golden Bears (21-9, 13-5) made their coach happy by delivering a taut defensive effort in a game when they were not smooth offensively. Randle shot just 2-for-10 from the floor, but defense kept the Bears in front until one of their shooters came alive.
That was senior Patrick Christopher, who scored 11 of his 23 points in the final 8:09, including a long 3-pointer that extended the lead to 67-59 with 1:40 left.
Christopher and Randle both said they didn't know that second-place Arizona State already had beaten UCLA, meaning that Cal needed to win to claim the crown outright. But they did remember losing here a year ago in Montgomery's return to Maples, where he coached for 18 seasons and directed Stanford to four Pac-10 titles and a Final Four appearance in 1998.
"I'm always talking about us being able to give coach Montgomery this win and him deserving this," Christopher said. "Last year they took something from us. It's kind of a big deal for him to come back to where he built a great legacy."
Montgomery said his focus was on just one thing.
"I'll be honest with you, this wasn't anything about Stanford at all," he said. "I wanted to win the Pac-10 championship and I wanted these kids to do what they set out to do and were capable of doing."
Cal got its first season sweep of the Cardinal since 1993 and won at Maples for just the second time during that span.
The Bears head into next week's Pac-10 tournament riding their first four-game winning streak of the season and having won seven of eight. Cal will play Thursday at 2:30 p.m. against the winner of Wednesday night's game between Oregon and Washington State.
The Cardinal (13-17, 7-11) will be the No. 7 seed and face Arizona State on Thursday at 8:30 p.m.
Stanford fell short on Senior Day despite another superb performance by senior Landry Fields. He had 25 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots to steal the individual spotlight from Randle, his chief competitor in the Pac-10 Player of the Year race.
But even after Randle finished with more modest totals of 11 points and five assists, Fields said, "If I had a vote, it would be for Randle.''
Randle was feeling equally generous, suggesting his vote would go to Fields. That prompted a look of mock outrage from Christopher, sitting at his side during the postgame interview session.
"I think the award for those guys is the Pac-10 championship," Montgomery said.
Christopher certainly was valuable in this one, not only triggering the Cal offense but limiting Stanford's second option, sophomore Jeremy Green, to 13 points on 5-for-15 shooting. Moments before his big 3-pointer, Christopher stole the ball after a scramble involving Stanford's Green and Jack Trotter.
"Give the kid credit, he made some big plays,'' Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said of Christopher.
Cal led by as many as 12 points in the first half but the Cardinal fought back, tying the game at 44 when Jack Trotter scored on a dunk with 14:02.
But even after Cal defensive ace Jorge Gutierrez sprained his ankle and left with 7:39 remaining, the Bears used defense to pull away gradually.
Stanford's only points in the final 3:15 came on a steal and dunk by Fields.
"We've had three games in a row now where we've not been just bang bang bang (shooting the ball), yet we committed ourselves to defense," Montgomery said. "We've gotten better and I think they feel pretty good about the fact that's allowed us to stay in games."
next game: Thursday, vs. TBD, 2:40 p.m.
next game: Thursday, vs. Arizona State, 8:40 p.m.