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Syracuse advances after win over Cal in San Jose

03/24/2013 4:21 AM ET
By The Associated Press

Baye Moussa Keita scores in Syracuse's win over California in the third-round of the NCAA tournament.(AP)

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- A 12-minute drought without a field goal. Six made baskets in the second half. Fifteen missed free throws.

Those ugly offensive numbers somehow added up to an NCAA tournament win for Syracuse thanks to a suffocating zone defense that took California and its hometown fans out of the game.

C.J. Fair scored 18 points, James Southerland added 14 and the fourth-seeded Orange overcame a horrid offensive performance to beat the 12th-seeded Golden Bears 66-60 on Saturday night and advance to the round of 16 for the second consecutive year.

''It was not pretty,'' Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. ''Honestly, I don't think I can describe it. It was about as ugly as I think it can get.''

Boeheim was talking specifically about the closing minutes, but that sentiment could sum up most of the game on the offensive end. Syracuse (28-9) made just 39 percent of its shots and missed 15 of 41 free throws but frustrated Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe and the rest of the Bears with its zone defense to overcome a dismal shooting night.

Richard Solomon scored 22 points for the Bears (21-12), who were trying to reach the round of 16 for the first time in 16 years and just the third time since 1960. They were denied because they couldn't solve Syracuse's defense.

''The zone accomplished what it wanted to,'' coach Mike Montgomery said. ''I was fearful that was going to happen. I knew where the strengths of the zone and what the weaknesses were. I wasn't sure we had the personnel in a day to get done what we needed to get done.''

Boeheim earned his 50th career NCAA tournament win as the Orange reached the regional semifinals for the fourth time in five years. This might have been one of the ugliest of those wins as Syracuse struggled to make a basket in the second half, relying on strong play on the defensive end and a parade to the foul line.

The teams combined for just three made baskets in the first 10:50 of the second half and Syracuse went almost six minutes without even taking a shot as Cal committed seven shooting fouls in the opening 6:02. The Orange hit eight of those 14 free throws to extend their lead to 42-30, but went 12:13 without a basket from the field.

''We knew we had an advantage, us guards, being able to get by their guards,'' Brandon Triche said. ''So that's what we wanted to do. I think within the first five minutes or so, we probably created six fouls on their guys and got in the bonus very early.''

As frustrated as the Bears and their fans were with the lopsided foul count, Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense was even more confounding. Crabbe found no room to get off a shot, with the Syracuse defenders closing quickly on him even when he caught the ball 25 feet from the basket.

''It's like when a shark smells blood,'' Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams said. ''You just get excited and want to keep going and shut him down some more. We definitely got that feeling and it just pushed us to play defense more.''

Point guard Justin Cobbs also struggled against the zone and even when Cal got the ball inside, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita were there to block or alter the shot.

Cal managed to get a 14-point lead cut down to seven with less than five minutes to go but Southerland and Carter-Williams answered with tough shots at the other end to quiet the crowd and keep Syracuse in control.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Crabbe and Tyrone Wallace got the deficit back down to 58-51 with 1:50 to go and Cal stole the inbound pass, but Crabbe stepped on the sideline to give the Orange the ball back.

Carter-Williams then drew a charge from Cobbs with a minute left and the Orange up seven. Keita's dunk sealed the victory.

The selection committee did Syracuse no favors, making the Orange the only top-four seed sent cross-country for the opening weekend of the tournament. Making matters worse, this game was played about 50 miles from Cal's campus in Berkeley, creating a decided home-court edge for the lower-seeded Bears.

The enthusiasm from the sold-out crowd did little to help Cal on the court in the early going as the Bears appeared jittery against Syracuse's zone defense.

Cal turned the ball over on seven straight possessions early in the game and fell behind 11-2 when Fair hit a 3-pointer following a bad pass from Ricky Kreklow on the other end.

Syracuse had its own problems protecting the ball, committing six early turnovers that kept Cal in the game. The Orange overcame that with their relentless rebounding, getting 12 second-chance points off 10 first-half offensive rebounds, including a layup by Fair that made it 27-15 after Keita missed a dunk.

The Orange led 32-24 at halftime after limiting Crabbe to two shots.

''They keyed in on me,'' Crabbe said. ''I mean, the shots that I thought I would probably get weren't there. They took things away from me.''

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