Basketball games usually come down to who makes the most shots.
Saturday, Cal made 27 field goals to 25 for Creighton -- but fell woefully short behind the arc, shooting 3-of-17 versus an 8-for-22 performance for the Blue Jays.
But in the end, it was the team that made the most plays that won the game.
Doug McDermott, the nation's leading scorer among juniors and the only returning All American player in the country, simply put on a dazzling display. McDermott ended the game with 34 points and nine rebounds - he was 4-of-7 from behind the arc, 6-of-10 from inside, and a perfect 10-for-10 from the charity stripe.
"McDermott is pretty consistent," said Golden Bears head coach Mike Montgomery. "He doesn't make many mistakes and doesn't miss many shots. It was a hard matchup for any of our bigs, which is why I used (Ricky) Kreklow more minutes than I wanted to."
"This is a great win for our program," said Creighton coach Greg McDermott. "I have the utmost respect for Coach Montgomery, I've gotten to know him over the past few years, after his team handed us our heads a few years back when I brought Northern Iowa here to Cal."
Asked about his team's ability to hold Cal's backcourt stars, Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, to a combined 14-for-43 shooting, McDermott was pleased. "Our guys competed tonight. Our goal coming in was to hold Crabbe and Cobbs under 50% shooting. Until that stretch at the end of the first half when Justin got going, we did that."
Crabbe opened the game missing his first 12 shots, but refused to credit Creighton's defensive pressure, mostly applied by guard Jahenns Manigat. "He (Manigat) did nothing, I just missed shots. I don't feel like he was stopping me, I just missed shots.
"It was just an off night, there were shots I usually make. I guess I sped up a little bit. I apologized to my team afterwards for taking shots I don't usually take."
Cal never led, but came close to catching Creighton near the end of the contest, closing the gap to four points with 23 seconds to play when Justin Cobbs hit a slashing layup. Unfortunately, Cobbs, Cal's leading scorer with 18 points, also hit his head on the base of the basket after the shot and was helped off the floor to the locker room.
"Justin seemed fine in the locker room," Crabbe reported. Montgomery agreed, but noted that with the spotlight on head injuries throughout sports now, Cobbs will be carefully examined and have to pass all the post-concussion protocols.
Brandon Smith then fouled Ethan Wragge on the inbounds play, and Creighton negated the value of the layup with no time expiring from the clock. Allen Crabbe then missed a three-point shot, then yet another seven seconds later, leaving him 0-for-8 on the night from behind the line, a stat that explains much of the Golden Bears frustration on a night when they could have defeated the 16-th ranked Blue Jays.
Cal somehow managed to shoot 35% on the night, despite starting the first half 0-for-6 and the second half 0-for-7. They jacked up shot after shot - Crabbe finished the evening a disastrous 6-for-26, taking exactly one-third of Cal's 78 shots.
If there was a home court advantage, Cal left it in the locker room. Creighton did not his a shot from the floor in the first 3:40 or the last 4:30 of the second half, yet in the 12 minutes in between they put the game away. The Bears out-rebounded the Blue Jays, 53-38, including a staggering 19 offensive rebounds, possible only because they missed 51 shots. Creighton went to the free throw line 21 times, hitting nine more than Cal.
Positives did emerge from the game; indeed, from the three-game stretch that saw Cal go 0-3 against three quality teams. Kreklow, who was reported as recently as Tuesday as "discouraged at the lack of progress in healing his foot injury", saw a new team physician, who performed and ultrasound and said that there was little or no danger of injuring the foot further if Kreklow played. Kreklow finished the game with four points and two rebounds in fifteen minutes. "He does make a difference for us," Montgomery said. "He creates activity and gets physical and gets after it."
Tyrone Wallace appears to be Cal's real point guard. Starter Brandon Smith only logged nine minutes in the game, with Wallace chipping in 27 minutes, eight points and a career-high 10 rebounds.
Crabbe was not daunted by the three-game skid. "I feel like we can compete with the teams we lost to. The last two, I took some questionable shots that hurt my team. I have to learn from it. We can win without me scoring, but I have to find a way to get the ball to my teammates."
Montgomery agreed with Crabbe's assessment. "They (Creighton) came in and "faced" Allen, trying to deny everything, the screens we run and so forth. It's smart. There's some things we can do to counter him off the back side, we didn't do a very good job of getting other people involved.
"We've go to get past the idea that he's the only guy who can score. We've got to get other people involved, we have to establish a low post game. I thought Ty came in and did a really nice job. We have to play the game and not play the play that says we're supposed to get 'this' shot. There are things we're supposed to get if the first option doesn't work and we're not doing that right now."
Bottom line, Montgomery said, is, "we're not good enough yet. I want to know what it is I can do to better help them."
He'd better get the answer quickly; Cal plays UCSB Tuesday evening in another 8:00 tip-off at Haas.