As blue and gold confetti spilled over Newell Court, Jerome Randle stood atop a ladder, snipped a piece of the net from the rim and took in the view below.
"It was great," the 5-foot-8 Cal senior said. "I've never been that high up."
Neither has anyone else associated with Cal basketball — not for 50 years, anyway.
The Golden Bears ended a half-century of waiting Saturday, holding Arizona State to one basket over a span of more than 10 minutes in the second half to claim a 62-46 victory and at least a share of the Pac-10 Conference title.
In front of a sellout crowd of 11,877 boisterous fans at Haas Pavilion, the Bears (20-9, 12-5) secured their first conference crown since 1960 and locked up the No. 1 seed in the Pac-10 tournament.
The scene afterward was one seen repeatedly across the country — just never in Berkeley.
Students rushed the floor and fans cried in the stands. Coach Mike Montgomery, in just his second season after a long and successful run at rival Stanford, celebrated his 63rd birthday by vigorously hugging his son John, his director of basketball operations.
Two years after finishing ninth in the Pac-10 and undergoing a coaching change, the Bears achieved the goal they set for themselves before this season.
"Making history ... it's a beautiful feeling," senior Patrick Christopher said. "It was just a tremendous feeling having everyone rush the floor. A great day."
The Bears still need one more win — next Saturday at Stanford — or another ASU defeat to clinch the title outright. But Cal didn't wait to toast this moment, giving the players championship T-shirts and letting them take turns cutting down the net.
Montgomery made the final few snips, then waved the nets at the crowd while pumping his fist. He won four regular-season titles at Stanford, but it took 13 seasons to win the first.
"To me, the conference championship is the crown jewel because it's 18 games. It's the thing that means the most," he said. "It's a great accomplishment for these kids to be able to do that."
Montgomery hasn't transformed the players he inherited from previous coach Ben Braun into one of his bruising Stanford squads, but he adapted his style to a group of skilled perimeter players while gradually convincing them to play championship-level defense.
They were fierce in the second half against the second-place Sun Devils (20-9, 10-6) after trailing 30-29 at halftime. Cal led 44-42 after a 3-point basket by ASU guard Jamelle McMillan with 11 minutes left, then grabbed the game by the throat.
The Sun Devils made just one basket — in 12 attempts — over a span of more than 10 minutes until a dunk by Victor Rudd with 32 seconds left.
"We got a couple stops in a row and the next thing you know we were up 10, 13 points," said Theo Robertson, the senior from De La Salle High. "From there, guys really believed."
Cal outscored the Sun Devils 18-4 the final 11 minutes of the game.
"They just got in a mindset defensively that they haven't been in that much," Montgomery said.
Jamal Boykin and Christopher, two of the five seniors honored in pregame ceremonies, each scored 14 points. Robertson added 13 and a team-high seven rebounds. Randle, a leading candidate for Pac-10 Player of the Year honors, scored just seven points, the fewest he's had in a victory all season, but he ran the team efficiently.
"As a point guard, his focus was totally on winning this game," Montgomery said. "Defensively, he was working hard. That's the growth we've really seen with these kids."
Sophomores Jorge Gutierrez and Omondi Amoke — the X-factors, according to Christopher — provided aggression, along with a combined 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
As happy as the Bears were, they don't consider the job finished.
"I'm selfish," Christopher said. "I would love to have the championship myself. If we take care of business, we'll have it."
Gutierrez is the hero for Bears. Page 3