TEMPE, Ariz. — Cal's secret weapon Thursday night in its 78-70 win over Arizona State: Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Senior Jamal Boykin played the role at Wells Fargo Arena, making himself invisible behind the Sun Devils' zone defense, then materializing to score a career-high 25 points.
Senior guards Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher added 25 and 21 points, respectively, and the first-place Golden Bears (14-6, 6-2 in Pac-10) helped thin out a logjam near the top of the conference standings with a victory in the first of four straight road games.
The Bears' new wrinkle against the Sun Devils (14-7, 4-4) was a play they call "ghost," in which the 6-foot-8 Boykin goes stealth at the bottom of the key, trying to hide until the entry pass comes his way.
"Remember Casper the Friendly Ghost?" Cal coach Mike Montgomery asked. "You can't see him ... i.e. the ghost."
"We get under the basket, almost out of bounds, and wait to see a hole, and we flash to the ball," said Boykin, who shot 10-for-13 from the field and also had 10 rebounds. "Because we're behind our man, it's hard for him to identify where we are. Like Casper, you can't see the man. That worked a lot tonight."
Enough worked in one of the Bears' best all-around performances of the season that they head to Arizona on Sunday alone in first place. The Wildcats (11-9, 5-3) are just one game back after beating Stanford 76-68.
"This is huge," Boykin said. "We don't want to look back at any games and say, 'That could have been the one that sealed the deal for us.' "
On a night when senior forward Theo Robertson — a 14.3 points per game scorer — was held without a point, others delivered in the clutch for Cal.
No one more so than sophomore guard Jorge Gutierrez, in just his second game back after missing five with a sprained knee.
After ASU used a 13-2 run to trail just 67-66, Gutierrez made his only basket of the night — a 3-pointer from the right corner with 2:55 left, giving the Bears breathing room and quieting the crowd a bit.
Then, after two free throws by Christopher pushed the margin to 74-68, Gutierrez drew a charge from Ty Abbott with 51.9 seconds left. Four more Christopher free throws iced the win.
"That's the kind of mental toughness you've got to have," Montgomery said of Gutierrez's two big plays.
ASU center Eric Boateng — Boykin's onetime freshman roommate at Duke — had 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Abbott made five 3-pointers in a 20-point effort.
The Bears got a productive and controlled game from Randle, who had totaled 17 turnovers the previous three outings. His banged-up right knee gave him trouble in those games, but he looked confident against the Sun Devils after hitting a couple early shots.
"He was patient, he moved the ball, and we moved people and were able to get some shots," Montgomery said.
But with 14:26 left, Randle collided with ASU's Demetrius Walker and had to be helped to the bench.
"I got hit in the same spot," Randle said. "My adrenaline was pumping so I was able to get back in."
Boykin wasn't surprised when Randle was back on the floor after barely a minute — he's seen it before.
"It's not that he's faking it," Boykin said. "He just heals fast."
Arizona St. 70
NEXT GAME: Sunday,
at Arizona, 12:30 p.m.
Pac-10 men's standings
School Conf. Overall
Cal 6-2 14-6
Arizona 5-3 11-9
Stanford 4-4 10-10
Washington State 4-4 14-6
Arizona State 4-4 14-7
USC 4-4 12-8
UCLA 4-4 9-11
Washington 3-5 13-7
Oregon 3-5 11-9
Oregon State 3-5 9-11