THE LONGEST NIGHT
We, like the team we love, have frankly run out of gas with respect to this basketball season. We'll have another look at the Ducks before tip-off Thursday night at Haas - their recent stretch has been abysmal, which sparks hopes of a season-making upset. But there's not that much to talk about with respect to Cal - I mean, there's no mystery as to why a shorthanded team hits the wall at halftime every night. If there's a compelling subplot we've missed let us know.
In the meantime, Oregon's visit to Berkeley gives us a chance to reminisce about the most epic battle in the long rivalry between the Bears and Ducks. No, not last year's Pac-10 tournament semifinal, which was long and mostly frustrating, despite the eventual win (worst officiated tourney game I've ever seen). No, not the Amit Tamir game in Berkeley when Cal dropped the Lukes 107-103 in double OT. I'm referring to a game that happened thirty years ago, in the middle of historic dry periods for California basketball. I'm referring the longest game in Pac-10 conference history.
On February 10, 1977 about 4000 fans settled into their seats at Harmon Gym for what figured to be an uneventful match-up between Cal and Oregon. The Bears were 6-13 overall and just 1-6 in conference; the Ducks had blown them out by 26 points in Eugene just five days earlier. Dick Edwards (left), Cal's coach, would be gone in fourteen months - yet another in the string of complete coaching disappointments since the surprise retirement of Pete Newell in 1960.
The names on Cal's roster will not be featured in our Sweet Sixteen countdown, though point guard Gene Ransom was certainly a contender. The other Bears - senior forward Ray Murry, sophomore center Tom Schneiderjohn and sophomore off-guard John Caselli, were largely journeymen, though Murry did explode in the season's last game for 41 points in a win over Stanford. Freshman forward Doug True would evolve into one of Cal's all-time leading scorers, but in his first varsity year he mostly supplied rebounding support.
Oregon, on the other hand, had a pretty good team. The Ducks were led by their best player in years in senior forward Greg Ballard. Ballard (right) would go on to be drafted #4 overall in that summer's NBA draft by the Washington Bullets, and was a key reserve as a rookie on the Bullets' NBA championship team. He was a bit of a one-man show - other Duck starters included the inaptly named shot-blocking center Kelvin Small and a guy named Ernie Kent. The Ducks were led by fiery Dick Harter, who would win Pac-8 Coach of the Year at the end of the year for leading the Ducks to a 19-10 record despite the graduation of All-America guard Ron Lee.
Cal might have been 1-6, but the Ducks limped into Berkeley having lost four of their last six, including an inexplicable home loss to WSU and a sweep at the hands of the hated Beavers. So Bear fans could be excused for expecting an upset. It's certain that none of them expected a five-overtime game that lasted three hours and 15 minutes (without the benefit of TV timeouts).
The numbers from that night are amazing: Ransom played the entire game until he fouled out with 1:30 left in the final overtime, and scored 36 points in his 63.5 minutes. He shot 19 free throws, and the Bears as a team shot 50 over the course of the evening. For his part, Ballard led all scorers with 41 points in 63 minutes of play. Ten players - five from each side - fouled out before the final buzzer sounded. There were many occasions where the game could have ended, but fate conspired to extend play to yet another extra period. At the end of the third OT, Cal held a four-point lead with twenty seconds to play. Two quick Duck baskets, sandwiched around missed free throws, kept the proceedings going. In the next period, Ransom hit two free throws to tie the score with about ten seconds to play.
As the teams played on, points were hard to come by. The teams scored six points apiece in the 3rd overtime, and then struggled for four a side in the 4th. Suddenly Cal caught fire in the 5th OT, behind scoring from Caselli and reserve Jim Griffith, while the Ducks' legs betrayed them. The final was 107-102, and Cal had scored a most memorable upset.
After the game, Ransom was asked how it felt to win such an amazing contest. Speaking for all involved, Cal's point guard stated that he just wanted to go home and jump in bed. The game is the longest in California history (its closest competition is a four-overtime game with Iowa during the Newell era), and the longest in the history of the Pac-10. Given Cal's injury situation, let's pray that we avoid a repeat on Thursday night.