JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — California’s distractions seem about as distant now as the Pacific Ocean.
That disappointing loss in the Pac-10 tournament? Getting sent across the country to open the NCAA tournament? The suspension of a starter?
The Golden Bears overcame them all — and showed even more resiliency in the first round against Louisville.
Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson — Cal’s senior stars — stole the show, carrying the eighth-seeded Bears to a 77-62 victory over the No. 9 seed Friday night and advancing to the second round for the first time since 2003.
Randle and Robertson scored 21 points apiece, Christopher added 17 and the Bears (24-10) responded to everything the Cardinals (20-13) could muster in the South Regional game at Veterans Memorial Arena.
Their reward? No. 1 seed Duke on Sunday.
The Bears don’t want to think about that one just yet. They’d rather savor this victory. There was plenty to enjoy, too.
They jumped out to an 18-point lead, watched Louisville whittle it down to six, then pulled back out front by 14. They watched that lead get cut to 62-58 with 6:55 remaining, then stepped on the gas for good. Cal finished the game on a 15-4 run.
Rakeem Buckles led Louisville with 20 points. Samardo Samuels added 16.
But the inconsistent Cardinals had no answers early and even less late. Coach Rick Pitino tried to foul Max Zhang in the final minutes, attempting to send the 50-percent free throw shooter to the line, but officials called Kyle Kuric for an intentional foul that got the coach’s blood boiling and led to a technical.
Randle and Zhang made their free throws, ending any thoughts of a late comeback.
Cal shot 51 percent from the field, even better from 3-point range (53.3 percent) and made 17 of 22 free throws. But the real damage came in the opening minutes.
The game was delayed 19 minutes because of a malfunctioning shot clock, but once it started, the Cardinals looked like the ones who needed repairs. They missed 11 of their first 13 shots and had no answer for the hot-shooting Bears.
Cal connected on seven of its first 10 shots, including four of six from 3-point range, and opened an 18-point lead with a little more than 6 minutes gone in the game.
Christopher, taking advantage of so much attention on Randle, hit three from behind the arc. Jamal Boykin dropped a couple of jumpers, Robertson chipped in five points and, all of a sudden, no one was questioning whether Cal would miss suspended forward Omondi Amoke.
Amoke was “temporarily suspended” for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Coach Mike Montgomery went with a three-guard lineup, starting Jorge Gutierrez. The move paid off, as Gutierrez hit a couple shots and dished out four assists in the first half.
No. 1 Duke 73, No. 16, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 44
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Kyle Singler had 22 points and 10 rebounds, Jon Scheyer scored 13 and the Blue Devils rolled past the Golden Lions.
Lance Thomas chipped in 12 points and Nolan Smith added 10 as the Blue Devils began their quest for a fourth national championship in dominating fashion.
No. 4 Purdue 72, No. 13 Siena 64
SPOKANE — Keaton Grant ignited the decisive run that rallied the Boilermakers past the Saints.
Grant’s 11 points to begin the second half opened up the inside for teammate JuJuan Johnson’s 23 points. Johnson, the tallest player on either team at 6-foot-10, also tied a career high with 15 rebounds.
No. 5 Texas A&M 69, No. 12 Utah State 53
SPOKANE — Freshman Khris Middleton scored a career-high 19 points for Texas A&M.
The Aggies (24-9) advanced to the second round for the fifth consecutive year. They will face No. 4 seed Purdue on Sunday.
David Loubeau added 12 points and B.J. Holmes had 11 for Texas A&M, which disrupted Utah State into one of its worst shooting performances of the season and dominated the rebounding.
Utah State (27-8) lost its fifth consecutive first-round game. Its last win came in 2001 over Ohio State.