Bears Play Giant Killer Once Again / NCAA hopes revived after toppling No. 7 Arizona

Maybe the secret rests in the way Cal dresses up its opponents. Maybe the Bears should swipe those North Carolina, UCLA and Arizona uniforms, so they can make all foes look imposing.

Somehow, defying all logic, the Bears did it again last night. They climbed out of their stupor and smacked seventh-ranked Arizona 89-76 before a crowd of 13,534 at the Arena in Oakland.

Cal thus earned its third victory this season against a top-10 opponent. The Bears previously toppled the Tar Heels and Bruins (also at home), when each team was ranked ninth in the nation.

This time, Cal did more than keep alive its flickering NCAA Tournament hopes. The loss also dealt Arizona a severe blow in its attempt to overtake Stanford for the Pac-10 championship.

The Cardinal can clinch the conference title by beating the Wildcats tomorrow night at Maples Pavilion. Stanford leads Arizona by two games, with three left.

And the Bears, now 15-10 overall and 6-9 in the conference, cling to NCAA dreams. Geno Carlisle led the way with 21 points, while Sean Lampley added 20 points and 11 rebounds.

Then, afterward, they struggled to explain how Cal can play so impressively in some games -- and so dreadfully in others.

"We know what we can do," Lampley said. "I can't explain the inconsistency. We're looking past all that. We've just got to play hard these last three games, as we did tonight."

There were many tangible explanations. Lampley and his teammates finally shot the ball well; they outrebounded Arizona (40-36), an unlikely achievement, and

they corralled Jason Terry.

Terry, the near-certain player of the year in the Pac-10, scored only two points in most of the second half (he had a late, meaningless 3- pointer). He finished with 17 points and nine assists, but he did not add Cal to his long list of victims.

The Bears also helped themselves by rediscovering their offense. They shot 51.6 percent from the field, only the third game all season in which they've exceeded 50 percent.

"We moved the ball very well against a tough, pressing defense," coach Ben Braun said. "We moved well without the ball, set better screens and made good decisions with the ball."

That formula included Carlisle, who made only 5 of 27 shots during last weekend's empty trip to Washington State and Washington. He was 8-for-16 last night, including a sizzling stretch in the first half.

"This is how I'm capable of playing, how I'm used to playing," Carlisle said. "The last 8 to 10 games, they've been frustrating. It was like I was in a funk and I couldn't get out."

Cal opened up an 18-point lead early in the second half. It seemed utterly implausible, given the way the Bears played in the Northwest, but they jumped all over Arizona (20-5, 11-4).

So when Lampley made a short turnaround jumper along the baseline, Cal moved ahead 60-42 with 17:03 left in the game.

Arizona regrouped and Cal's shots soon started skidding off the rim. It was a predictable dry spell, but it did not doom the Bears; their lead never dropped below 10 points.

Cal played an extraordinary first half, shooting 59 percent from the field in streaking to a 52-40 lead. Lampley flexed his muscle inside and Carlisle climbed into an uncommon shooting zone.

His final basket sent the crowd into utter delirium. Raymond (Circus) King made two free throws with 3.9 seconds left, stretching Cal's lead to 49-40.

Then freshman Dennis Gates -- just inserted into the game -- stole the inbounds pass near halfcourt. Gates quickly passed the ball to Carlisle, who lofted a high-arching 3- point shot at the buzzer.

Swish.

"That was a great momentum play," Braun said. "It kind of put a stamp on the first half for us."