Click photo to enlarge
Stanford's Jack Trotter fights for the ball with Cal's Patrick Christopher in the second half at Maples Pavilion, Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. on Saturday, March 6, 2010. The Cal Bears beat the Stanford Cardinal 71-61.

From the 21-9 overall record to the various calculations and formulas that determine the overall quality of a team, the numbers speak well of Cal.

The Golden Bears own the Pac-10 championship outright with a 71-61 dumping of Stanford on Saturday at Maples Pavilion and will take a season-high four-game win streak into the conference tournament next week.

Yet we still don't know what to make of these Bears, how they'll respond to the grind of the Pac-10 tournament and the high-magnitude games of the NCAA Tournament.

What we know is they are a much better team when Patrick Christopher is assertive and accurate and, above all, highly motivated.

The senior guard made clear during the week he wasn't terribly impressed with the share of the Pac-10 title Cal gained with a victory over Arizona State last Saturday in Berkeley. He talked about wanting to win the Pac-10 title for the five seniors on the team and doing it at Stanford, where Mike Montgomery spent the majority of his career.

Then Christopher went out and tried to win it practically alone. He took a team-high eight shots in the first half, making only two and missing all three of his 3-point attempts. He played every minute, scoring 6 points the hard way.

He made up for it after halftime, with a Superman move.

Clark Kent typically entered phone booth to shed his suit and tie, emerging with an "S" on his chest and a cape at his back. Christopher merely entered the locker room and changed shoes.


Advertisement

The self-admitted "sneakerhead" — he has dozens of pairs — found a more comfortable pair and was immediately more effective. He scored 17 points after halftime, including 11 of Cal's 14 during a pivotal stretch to close out the victory.

"Hopefully we can have that kind of game from him all the time," guard Jerome Randle said of his four-year teammate.

Christopher's 3-pointer with 1:42 left gave the Bears a 67-59 lead and pretty much buried a plucky Cardinal team that spent most of the second half close enough to keep Montgomery on the edge of his seat and the crowd very much into the game.

"I thought he had a tough shot," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. "Jarrett Mann was right there. And it was a deep 3."

That's the thing about Christopher and Randle. They can extend to 23 or 25 feet in a blink. With Randle off his game (11 points on 2-of-10 shooting, with five assists and four turnovers), Christopher took it upon himself to compensate.

Making 6-of-10 from the floor in the second half, Christopher finished with 23 points, tying Stanford forward Landry Fields for game high. Christopher added seven rebounds and three steals.

"Christopher made some big plays down the stretch," Dawkins said.

Christopher acknowledged his struggles early in the game, saying he got some open looks that simply didn't fall. Yet it was imperative he keep shooting. He's Cal's No. 2 scorer (15.9 per game) and he kept finding creases in Stanford's defense.

"Pat over time is going to make shots," Montgomery said. "He's not going to miss over and over and over."

Really, this game was kind of a microcosm for Christopher's season. After a junior year that fostered NBA ambitions, he has been less inconsistent, undoubtedly the result of knee tendinitis that has limited his practice time and continues to nag.

Though he plays through the discomfort, it has a visible effect. His jumper seems to vary from game to game, if not shot to shot. Since posting three successive games of more than 20 points in January, Christopher topped 20 only once in the next 11 games.

Then came Saturday, when the 6-foot-5 Los Angeles native took the court with motivation at his back, shaking off sore knees and a forgettable first half.

"I wanted to give coach Montgomery a win in here," Christopher said. "I don't think we really wanted to share a Pac-10 championship."

The desire to win it outright was evident in the way Cal attacked the boards (41-30 advantage), in senior forward Jamal Boykin's fierce first half (11 or his 13 points) and in Montgomery's sideline gyrations. This was about winning the Pac-10, yes, but also about establishing something that has been elusive.

"We especially wanted this, to come in here and get some momentum for the postseason," Christopher said.

Momentum is riding with the Bears. Keeping it is the quest.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.