SAN JOSE, Calif. Syracuse completed a successful two-game NCAA Tournament road trip to the West Coast with another dominating defensive performance Saturday night.
But the Orange will have to do a much better job of offensive execution and free throw shooting if they hope to advance past the Sweet 16 next week.
SUs active 2-3 zone defense made the difference, frustrating No. 12 California all night, as the No. 4 Orange raced out to an early lead then held on for a 66-60 victory at the HP Pavilion in a ragged East Region third round game.
The Orange will face the winner of todays game between No. 1 Indiana and No. 9 Temple in the East Region semifinals on Thursday night at the Verizon Center in Washington, D. C.
Advancing to the schools 17th Sweet 16, the Orange (28-9) limited Californias two leading scorers, Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe (8) and Justin Cobbs (6), to a combined 14 points on 5-for-18 shooting. They had been averaging 34 points combined per game this season.
SU won the game at the foul line, taking 41 free throws but making just 26. That included a 22 of 36 effort in the second half when the Golden Bears fouled early and often, forcing the pace of the game to a crawl.
C.J. Fair scored 12 of his 18 points in the first half for SU. James Southerland contributed 14 points and nine rebounds, Michael Carter-Williams had 12 points and reserve center Baye Moussa Keita came up big again off the bench with 11 points and seven rebounds .
Richard Solomon paced California (21-12) with 20 points.
Our defense was as good as its been all year, said SU coach Jim Boeheim, who won his 50th NCAA Tournament game. The offense was sloppy and we missed a lot of free throws. But in this tournament, you take a win any way you can get it.
After taking just five free throws the first half, SU made a concerted effort to get to the foul line the second half.
Coach got on us to go to the basket because the middle was open, said SUs Brandon Triche. And when we got in the bonus that early (5 1/2 minutes into second half), we knew wed be going there a lot the rest of the game.
Boeheim said he told his guards, especially Triche, to stop settling for contested 15-footers and get by their defenders. And almost every time we got fouled. We have been making free throws, but for some reason tonight we struggled.
The Orange defense, however, continued to dominate opponents, holding the Bears to 39 percent shooting and just 4-for-21 on 3-pointers.
California coach Mike Montgomery gave the credit to SU for shutting down his offense. We started the game very tentative against the zone, and really never attacked it like we wanted, he said. They did a great job locating Allen and spreading us out. And when we attacked in the middle, we missed a lot of easy shots.
Said Crabbe: Its a lot different watching the zone on film and playing against it in person. They are long and athletic and they really contested every shot.
Triche said the intent with Crabbe was to force him three or four feet out further than he likes, and make sure he didnt shoot in good rhythm.
Leading 32-24 at halftime, the Orange managed just six field goals the entire second half and went more than 12 minutes without a basket.
But the Orange attacked the basket relentlessly, and the Bears were helpless to stop it.
SU held a double-digit lead much of the second half, and still led 58-45 with 2:25 to play. California got as close as seven points, 60-53, at the 1:06 mark before Carter-Williams fed Keita for a huge dunk.
Keita and Fair both hit a pair of free throws in the final 30 seconds.
Although the Orange were up by eight at halftime, it cost itself a much bigger edge with some sloppy play of its own.
While the Golden Bears turned the ball over nine times in the first 20 minutes, including on seven straight possessions early in the game, SU was guilty of eight turnovers.
California, playing just 45 minutes from home, got seven points from reserve forward Richard Solomon over the final two minutes to help the Bears stay in it at halftime.
It was tough to come all the way across country, and then play a team with a big homecourt advantage, said Boeheim. Now weve got to hop on a plane and go back 3,000 miles, then get on another plane for Washington Tuesday. Thats life in this tournament, and weve seen both sides of it.