After a solid 11-3 start to the season, including a 1-0 start in Pac-12 play with a home win over Washington, the Bears lost the first of what would grow to be six games at home to Washington State. Tonight in Pullman, the Bears got their revenge with a timely 76-67 win over the Cougars, pulling to 11-8 and 2-6 on the season.
"Trying to wins games on the road, the mental focus and the preparation to win road games, I thought our guys showed great resolve," said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin.
"After losing six games in a row to fight on the road to get a win was a tremendous win and a good start for us."
In a back-and-forth 1st half, the Cougars maintained the lead much of the half. The Bears stayed in it, though, with solid defense and strong shooting, led by junior point guard Ty Wallace with his fastest start of the season. Wallace would lead tonight's scoring with 26 points while Cougar senior DaVonte Lacy would pace WSU with 24.
At the half, the Bears led, 39-37, shooting a solid 55% from the field, largely on the strength of Wallace's 21 1st half points, on 9-of-12 shooting compared to just 41% for the Cougars. It was Wallace's third 20-point half, with the other two coming in the 2nd half vs. Princeton and Fresno State in the preseason.
The Cougars still managed to lead much of the half on the strength of converting nine points of Cal turnovers to just a single bucket for the Bears.
The Bears also got a spark from freshman point guard Brandon Chauca, chipping in seven points in the 1st half, as well, along with a much-welcomed seven from soph wing Jabari Bird. Cal-nemesis Lacy led WSU with 11 at the break, with Josh Hawkinson chipping in eight.
Hawkinson would finish with 18 points and 12 rebounds in a solid game, while Chauca totalled a season-high 10 points for Cal.
"He's just aggressive," said Martin of Chauca. "One thing I've always talked about with him is just taking care of the basketball.
"He plays with a little flash to his game, with the ball flying all over the place sometimes, so for him just taking care of the ball as a point guard, looking for his shot, being aggressive, being in attack mode -I thought he did a tremendous job. Taking care of the ball is the biggest thing."
Martin noted that having the benefit of Chauca stepping up his play also played dividends with Wallace, creating different scoring opportunities without the ball in his hands all the time on offense.
"You move him (Wallace) off the ball and he can attack, post up and do other things, so that part was good.
"Brandon's shifty, he knows where the shooters are and he forces the ball."
After Lacy tied the game to start the 2nd half with a jumper from the key, the Bears took their biggest lead of the game on back-to-back buckets by junior forward Christian Behrens on a putback and a Dwight Tarwater trey after a Behrens block on the defensive end on Hawkinson on what looked like an easy bucket.
Forward David Kravish came into the half with three fouls and picked up his critical fourth foul just 4:39 into the 2nd half, leaving the Bears decidely thin under the bucket.
Following a pair of WSU free throws after the Kravish foul, the Bears extended their lead to seven, with a Kingley Okoroh dish to a slashing Bird, who converted the free throw on the and one.
A second Chauca three from the top of the key further extended the lead to double digits, as the Bears went up 54-44 with 13:07 remaining in the game.
Okoroh keyed the defense on the Bears' run, with a pair of blocks and a steal.
A Wallace runner pushed the Cal lead to 12 on the next possession before a frustrated Ernie Kent called timeout to try and slow down the Bears' 12-2 run.
The strategy worked, as the Cougars bounced right back with a jumper by Hawkinson and a trey by Lacey to cut the Bears' lead to seven.
A Bird runner off a miss pushed the lead back out to nine but the Bears took a blow on the following possession, as Kravish fouled out with 10:05 left just a minute after coming back into the game with his fourth foul, as Lacy converted on the free throws.
A pair of three's by Kernich-Drew and Lacy cut the Cal lead to five with 7:59 left in the game with both Kravish and Wallace on the bench.
A pair of Hawkinson free throws gave the Cougars their first lead of the half with 3:35 remaining in the game, with the Bears scoring just two points in the previous 5:20 as the game was in danger of slipping away.
Converting the second of two free throws for his first point of the game, Jordan Mathews knotted the game again for the Bears.
An Okoroh rebound and pass to a slashing Mathews, who hit the shot and subsequent free throw gave the Bears a three point lead with 2:14 remaining. Mathews followed up on the Bears' next possession with a critical trey with 48 seconds remaining, pushing Cal's lead to six. Mathews piled up nine points in just four minutes of play after going scoreless the first 35.
The Bears would go on to score the final three points of the game to hold on for the 11-point win.
Washington State fell to 9-11, 3-5 before their weekend contest with Stanford.
Cal travels next to Seattle in a rematch with the Huskies Sunday at noon, with Washington coming off a Wednesday night loss to the Cardinal.