JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In the final seconds of the first half in Cal's 68-53 NCAA Tournament second-round loss to Duke on Sunday, Jerome Randle drove toward the lane, spun 180 degrees, faked one way, then the other before finally flinging a wild shot over his shoulder while falling to the floor.
It was that way most of the afternoon for the Golden Bears: Duke simply would not allow them a good shot.
"This is a great defense we played against tonight," senior Theo Robertson said. "They play hard, they play together and you could really tell nothing was going to come easy.
"Even the times we got to the basket, they didn't really concede anything. That's the mark of a great team."
Duke (31-5) advanced to the South Regional semifinals in Houston by strangling Cal's usually fluid offense. The Bears (24-11) were held to nine points under their previous season low, and seniors Randle, Robertson and Patrick Christopher — who average a combined 49.2 points — were limited to a season-low 24.
It had been 50 years since Cal last won a Pac-10 regular-season title or this many games in a season, but their formula has been a delicate one. When it clicked, the Bears were very good, as was the case two nights earlier when the trio combined for 59 points in a 77-62 rout of Louisville.
An off-game by one or two of the three primary scorers and it crumbled.
Duke junior Nolan Smith had 20 points and put the squeeze on Randle, who managed just 12 points — seven under his average. Christopher took four stitches in his left eyebrow after being elbowed by Jon Scheyer a half-minute into the game, and scored a season-low two points — 14 under his usual.
The Blue Devils knew how to defuse the Bears, and when they did Cal had no recourse.
"They simply were not going to let Pat catch the ball, and the same with Jerome," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "And that's what's happened all year long, when those guys are not able to get shots or make points, we struggle a little."
Cal senior Jamal Boykin, who began his career at Duke, needed a moment to digest the idea of his team being held to 53 points.
"Yeah, that is shocking," he said.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who had lost two previous coaching duels with Montgomery, entered the game wary of Cal's perimeter trio.
"We played an outstanding defensive game tonight against a championship team," he said. "Those three kids are such good shooters, and I thought the discipline we had defensively was the difference in the ballgame."
Cal led once, at 9-8, for a total of 17 seconds. The game was tied once more, then Duke flexed its muscle. Brian Zoubek, the 7-foot-1 senior center, had 14 points and 13 rebounds, and Kyle Singler added 17 points.
It was a testimony to the Blue Devils' superior versatility that leading scorer Scheyer shot 1-for-11 and it didn't matter.
Cal trailed 37-24 at halftime, then pulled within 44-37 on consecutive 3-point baskets by Randle and Christopher and a 2-pointer by Boykin.
"We just didn't want to quit," Robertson said. "We felt like we could make a run."
The run never came. Duke extinguished Cal's last hope when Zoubek scored on a tip-in and a layup, sparking an 8-0 run. In a span of 70 seconds, Duke made it a 15-point game.
Really, the tone was already set. Duke welcomed a physical game and its defenders attached themselves to Cal's best scorers, switching easily when necessary.
Smith said he never sensed frustration from Randle but explained, "From the get-go I wanted to make it clear that I was going to stay in his jersey."
Randle grudgingly conceded Duke got the best of him.
"That's what you expect when they fear you can do something," he said. "They're going to try to adjust, and they did a great job of it. They stopped me from doing what I was capable of doing."
Him and his teammates, too.