Syracuse's defense stymies Cal, Crabbe

March, 24, 2013
3/24/13
1:51
AM ET

 
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- It's one thing to play good defense. That's when opposing players have low field goal percentages. Syracuse does that, without a doubt. It ranked third in the nation in field goal percentage defense this season.

But what if you need that extra push over the cliff and decide to turn your defense up to 11? That's when, say, the Pac-12 Player of the Year can't even get a shot off, much less make one.

And that's what the Orange did Saturday in their 66-60 victory over California in the NCAA tournament round of 32 at HP Pavilion. Bears guard Allen Crabbe entered the tournament averaging 18.7 points. He'd scored 20 or more points in 15 games this season.

Against Syracuse, he took his sixth shot of the game with five minutes left. At that point, he was 1-for-6 from the field. He finished with eight points on 3-of-9 shooting.

"They keyed in on me," Crabbe said. "The shots that I thought I would probably get weren't there. And they took things away from me. You've just got to give credit to them. They're long and athletic, so I tried to shoot over them a couple of times. They were there, contested it. I was in the air passing the ball, deferring for my shots. You've got to give them credit, they play really well in that zone."

[+] EnlargeAllen Crabbe, Rakeem Christmas
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesRakeem Christmas and the Syracuse zone took Cal star Allen Crabbe out of the game for a huge stretch.
Ah, Syracuse's notorious 2-3 zone. Love it, hate it, but it's the signature of one of the nation's most consistent programs. Coach Jim Boeheim's players are running it as well as they have in the 1,037 years -- give or take 1,000 -- the crotchety one has been at Syracuse ("crotchety" being the term Cal coach Mike Montgomery used to describe his good friend).

"I thought our defense was really good tonight, the whole game," Boeheim said. "I just thought we played tremendously on the defensive end."

Fourth-seeded Syracuse (28-9) will play the winner of Indiana's game Sunday against Temple in the Sweet 16 in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

Cal averaged 67.5 points per game this season, but the Orange defense is not just about scoring. It's about frustrating. Making a team uncomfortable. Cal seemed uncomfortable most of the night. Crabbe's No. 2, guard Justin Cobbs, scored just five points on 2-for-9 shooting and had as many turnovers -- four -- as assists.

Cal shot 39.3 percent from the field. It was 4-of-21 from 3-point range (19 percent). The Orange grabbed 1o steals.

"We had a difficult time solving the zone," Montgomery said. "They did a great job of getting to Crabbe, for example, and locating him in the thing and they had us pretty well spread out. Credit to Jim Boeheim. That zone is effective. It's good. It's tough. I'm sure everybody in the Big East will tell you the same thing. It's something you've got to play with for 40 minutes. They're not changing. They have a lot of confidence in it and we didn't come out and attack it very intelligently. And obviously if you go 4-for-21 from 3 against the zone, you're probably going to have some problems."

Cal, the region's No. 12 seed, was forced to go away from Crabbe and Cobbs, who combined to score 1,059 of the Bears' 2,094 points entering the tournament; Richard Solomon led all scorers with 22 points while Tyrone Wallace added 12.

But that's not Cal.

"They moved the ball well, as well as anybody. They really did," Boeheim said. "We just were reacting really, really well. We really had great defensive movement. Our defense was as good as you could ask it to be for a long time tonight. I mean, they weren't getting shots, you know."

Crabbe had five turnovers, most coming when he tried to pass as the Orange converged on him. And even when Cal (21-12) got good looks, those looks didn't last long.

"So by trying to throw it to David [Kravish] and Richard and at the high post, they were having to catch, face, make a decision there," Montgomery said. "And we got some really nice shots off. We had some where we actually got the ball exactly where we wanted it, but we got it blocked. And their size came in and took those away from us. That's discouraging."

As for offense, Syracuse was a bit sloppy at times, but it was aggressive and got the job done. With 18 points, C.J. Fair led four players in double figures. James Southerland scored 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. He added two assists and four steals.

Syracuse scored 20 points off turnovers, compared to 13 from California. The Orange also had 18 second-chance points, compared to 12 from Cal. Both those numbers add up to meaningful totals when you consider the final score.

So how far can that defense carry Syracuse?

Said Fair, "We can go all the way -- our whole goal is to get to Atlanta."

Ted Miller | email

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