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Bears down Penn in 1st round; No. 3 Pittsburgh up next

The Associated Press
Saturday March 16, 2002

PITTSBURGH – The NCAA tournament committee didn’t do California any favors, forcing the Pac-10 school to travel across the country for its first-round game. 

And now that they’re here, the Golden Bears figure they might as well spend the weekend. 

“Why not?” guard Brian Wethers said. 

Joe Shipp scored 20 points as Cal played a solid all-around game and advanced to the second round with an 82-75 victory over Pennsylvania in the South Regional on Friday. 

The sixth-seeded Golden Bears (23-8) will play Pittsburgh in the second round Sunday. The third-seeded Panthers, playing a short walk from their campus, beat Central Connecticut State 71-54. 

Wethers hit several key jumpers and added 19 points for Cal, which avoided being beaten in the first round for the second straight year by holding off the 11th-seeded Quakers (25-7). 

Last March, Cal was eliminated in the opening round by Fresno State, resulting in a plane ride back from Memphis that still hurts 12 months later. 

The Bears were determined not to let it happen again. 

“We’re a lot more focused, a lot more prepared and a lot more hungry,” Wethers said. “Last year, we were excited to be in. But this year, we really wanted to get a win in this tournament and make a run.” 

They’re off. 

Ugonna Onyekwe, the Ivy League’s player of the year, and Koko Archibong led Penn with 16 points apiece. Jeff Schiffner added 12 before fouling out. 

Much of the talk leading up to tipoff had focused on the Ivy’s Quakers, who had won 10 straight games and 15 of 17 to get into the tournament. 

Unlike Princeton, which staged NCAA tourney upsets in 1996 and ’98, Penn is a much more athletic team. And based on their regular-season wins over Georgia Tech and Temple, the Quakers became a trendy office-pool pick to knock off Cal. 

“That bothered us a little bit,” Wethers admitted. “We tried to look at it as if we were the underdogs.” 

But it was Cal which looked like the Ivy League squad, making backdoor cuts and playing hard-nosed defense. 

Cal, which held Pac-10 teams to 66.4 points per game this season, came up with nine steals and held the Quakers to 42 percent shooting. 

“We wanted to make them work for everything,” Shipp said. “In the second half, we really stepped it up after we gave them too many easy looks in the first half.” 

Cal’s man-to-man pressure made it tough on Penn for the entire 40 minutes, and even when they led by double digits late, the Bears didn’t back down. 

“I thought we had some good looks, but we just didn’t shoot well enough,” Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. “Give Cal credit. They made big shots at big times.” 

This wasn’t the same Cal team that got drubbed by 46 points by Arizona on March 2, but more like the one which started the season 9-1 and won seven of eight in conference play before the meltdown against the Wildcats. 

“Yeah, we’ve taken our bumps and bruises in the past,” Wethers said. “But we’ve learned from our losses. I think this was more like the team we really are.” 

Leading by four points with 15:41 left, Cal’s Ryan Forehan-Kelly hit a 3-pointer, and Shipp had a thunderous dunk over Archibong to cap a 9-0 run that put the Bears ahead by 13 with 12:26 remaining. 

“That was huge,” Cal coach Ben Braun said of Shipp’s dunk, which he punctuated by walking over the legs of Archibong, who was sprawled on the floor. Shipp “doesn’t need to see that again. I’m probably going to turn off the TV when that play comes on.” 

But with Wethers the only Cal player looking to shoot, Penn crawled back with three 3-pointers and pulled within 65-59 on Archibong’s two free throws with 4:16 left. 

That’s when Shipp brought Cal out of its offensive funk by draining an NBA-range 3-pointer on a designed play to make it 68-59 with 3 minutes to go. 

“That was the play,” said Shipp, who scored 11 points on free throws. “I got a great look, took my time and just stroked it. It was a good shot and we needed a score.”