Patrick Christopher leads a senior-laden lineup that has a chance to live its dream of becoming Pac-10 champs -- and more.
Douglas C. Pizac/AP
This article appears in the November 23, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated
When Patrick Christopher decided last April not to declare for the NBA draft,he called Jerome Randle, his backcourtmate at Cal, and arranged to meet him at aBay Area restaurant. "He was excited when I told him," Christopher says ofreturning for his senior season. "We came in together as freshmen and havealways wanted to get to the point where expectations were [high]."
The two Golden Bears got what they wished for after their team jumped fromninth in the Pac-10 in 2007-08 to a third-place tie and an NCAA tournament berthlast season under first-year coach Mike Montgomery. Now Cal and Washington arethe co-favorites to win the conference.
Christopher, who developed into one of the Pac-10's best defenders, andRandle, a point guard who led the league in assists (5.0 per game), averaged32.8 points between them and were All-Pac-10 selections. Overall, theteam's strengths are experience (four senior starters total) and three-pointshooting. Swingman Theo Robertson shot 48.7% from beyond the arc last season,and as a team the Bears hit a nation's-best 42.7%.
The lack of an inside game is the main sore point. "We're not very big," saysMontgomery. "We don't have a shot blocker or someone who can really clean theglass." The Bears, who ranked sixth in the league in defensive field goalpercentage (44.2%) and eighth in scoring defense (allowing 69.2 points pergame), need Harper Kamp, a junior best suited to run the high-post setsMontgomery favors, to bounce back quickly from off-season arthroscopic kneesurgery.
They also need more consistency from Christopher, who shot 21.7% fromthree-point range in Cal's 11 losses and 50.0% in their 22 wins. "When we lostat USC, I struggled [four points]; when we played them at home, I had one of mybest games, with 29 points," he says. "What would have happened had I played thewhole season like I did against USC at home? We have to seize the moment."
-- George Dohrmann
Issue date: November 23, 2009