Berkeley, CA - Coaches always tell their players to put losses behind them immediately and look forward. That will be tough this week for the Golden Bears who lost a 76-75 nail-biter to the visiting 21st-ranked UNLV Runnin' Rebels on Sunday.
Allen Crabbe played 18 second-half minutes with three fouls and collected 13 points, but it was the one he did not get that proved most costly.
"It just wasn't our night at the free throw line," Crabbe said. "We normally make them really well. I can't remember a game where I missed three free throws. If I make two of those we win the game."
After collecting just seven fouls in the first half, UNLV racked up 10 in the first nine minutes of the second half. From that point, the Bears converted 6-of-8 free throws in the next 1:32 to tie the game at 56-all. In the final 10 minutes, they took just eight more free throws -- making seven, but it was Crabbe's miss of the first of a pair with 38.4 seconds in the game that gave the Rebels life. Bryce Dejean-Jones, who finished with 22 points, had fouled out at that point, and Crabbe could have given the Golden Bears a two-point lead.
"Free throws killed us; at one point we were 4-for-15," Montgomery pointed out. After starting 3-for-12 from the stripe, Cal finished the night at 15-of-28 (54%). They entered play shooting 75% from the line, a performance that if just matched would have comfortably won the game for the Bears.
Instead, Cal found itself trying to defend a one-point margin in the game's final 11.4 seconds.
And, to be precise, they did defend that lead. With Cal packing the paint, Justin Cobbs forced Anthony Marshall (22 points) to take a wild shot from the edge of the arc. It was an air ball.
"I haven't seen what happened," said Cal coach Mike Montgomery. "I probably made a mistake, we haven't worked on (back-court) pressure much. I asked them to cushion the ball, keep it in front of them and take 5-6 seconds off the clock before (they got) the ball into the front court. Instead, they pushed it up and we wound up making some switches on defense."
All Cal needed to do was corral the rebound. Richard Solomon, who tied a career high with 14 points and who tallied five boards in the second half, was there.
"I should have went up and got the rebound," said a disconsolate Solomon. "I boxed out and should have gotten the rebound. We've got to be more physical at the defensive end, box out and fight for the ball. We have to go up and get it, we can't wait for the bounce."
"Our Achilles' heel has been getting offensive rebounds," Montgomery noted. (The Bears had just five, compared to 13 for the Rebels.)
"We got an air ball. They didn't have time to go to Anthony Bennett (the game's high scorer with 25 points and 13 rebounds). The guard came down and either we fell asleep, or we were mismatched, and they got the rebound and scored."
Senior Quintrell Thomas, in the game because Dejean-Jones had fouled out, grabbed the ball under the basket and put in a reverse layup. He was also fouled -with 1.2 seconds remaining in the game.
Thomas missed the free throw, as he should have done to take time off the clock. David Kravish snagged the rebound and called time out immediately. Now 0.9 seconds remained.
Senior guard Justin Hawkins then recorded UNLV's only block of the night, slapping the ball as Cobbs tried for a 3-point shot from mid-court. It fell harmlessly at his feet, 45 feet short of the basket.
"It hurts," said a barely-audible Crabbe. "We made a great defensive play, we were there -- there's so many other things that could have happened so we won the game. It hurts. Today was our perfect day to show everybody we can compete with these top teams, and it comes down to one play."
Of course, plenty happened before the final sequence. At one point in the first half, the Bears were 15-of-19 (79%) from the floor, but their 2-for-8 from the free throw line meant they trailed in the game.
Crabbe got into foul trouble early. He played just nine minutes in the first half and took only one shot.
"We try to rest guys," Montgomery said, "but Allen had a fair stretch. We took him out with two (fouls). Obviously we were not going to sustain offensively (without him), so I put him back in and he got his third. We need more than eight shots from him, a couple were off-balance."
That third foul was a called a flagrant foul by referee Verne Harris with 6:49 left in the half; it put Crabbe on the bench for the remainder of the half. Crabbe had the ball in the front court near the scorer's table, and was tightly defended. He swung an elbow trying to clear himself a little room; Harris saw contact and called the flagrant foul, leading to a pair of free throws by Anthony Marshall and possession for the Rebels.
"He flopped," said Crabbe of Cal's second flagrant foul in as many games. "I didn't even touch him. He got up into me, I tried to swing through him, I thought it was a bad call. I can't do nothing about it, it's over now."
"The rules are very specific," Montgomery said. "If you throw an elbow, it's a foul, if there's contact (above the shoulders), it's a flagrant foul. Whether there was contact, I don't know. I asked them to check the monitors and there was, so, end of story."
Bennett was superb all evening. The 6-8, 240-pound freshman ran the pick-and-roll to perfection all night, getting to the line for 11 free throws.
UNLV played without their big man, 6-8 junior Mike Moser, a transfer from UCLA, almost the entire evening. Moser crumpled to the floor in a scramble for a loose ball, and was prone on the floor for several minutes after. When medical personnel touched his right arm, he screamed in pain and was helped off the floor with a dislocated right elbow. He returned with his arm in a sling late in the first half and sat on the bench the rest of the night. He was being further examined by Cal's orthopedic surgeons after the game.
In addition to Crabbe's team-high 18 points and Solomon's career-high-tying 14, the Golden Bears got 11 points from Cobbs and a surprising 13 from true freshman Tyrone Wallace, who added two boards and two assists.
"He plays hard," Montgomery said, referring to Wallace. "He's long and he'll go get the ball off the glass. He's good around the basket and he'll go in and finish. Defensively, he's pretty good."
The loss was only the fourth non-conference loss at Haas in Montgomery's five seasons at Berkeley. Cal is now 0-2 against UNLV on Cal's court, with both losses being by a single point.
It gets no easier going forward. Cal faces the 16th-ranked Creighton Jays at Haas Saturday evening at 8:00. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 network; if you don't have Comcast, you'll have to come to Berkeley to enjoy the matchup.