BERKELEY -- For the first 12:42 of game time on Wednesday night, California and Washington were about as even as two teams could be, tied at 18-18 with the lead having already changed six times. Then, Huskies senior Aziz N’Diaye exploded on defense, fueling a 16-2 run to end the half, and laying the groundwork for what would become a 62-47 Huskies route, and the Bears’ third loss in their last four games.
“It was pretty apparent that they were more ready to play than we were,” said head coach Mike Montgomery. "They dominated us physically and on the glass in particular."
“They just played hard enough. We didn’t,” said barely-audible and downcast junior Allen Crabbe. “I don’t have any explanation. We just didn’t play hard. There was no energy there. We couldn’t make any plays to get us back in the game. We just didn’t play hard.”
Over the last 7:18 of the first half, N’Diaye went 2-for-3 with three rebounds and three blocks, as the starting Cal big-man duo of David Kravish and Robert Thurman -- making his first college start -- combined for eight points and just a single rebound in the first half, and that rebound came within the first minute.
“We’ve just got to make plays,” said Crabbe, who scored just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting. “ We’ve got to play with more energy. Myself, I didn’t come out with any energy. We’ve just got to play as a team at all times. That’s embarrassing to lose like that on your own floor.”
By the time the dust settled, Washington would pull down 20 offensive boards and out-rebound the Bears by 15 (48-33). The 20 offensive rebounds are the most Cal (9-6, 1-2 in the Pac-12) has given up this season. The Bears have now surrendered double-digit offensive boards in 10 of 15 games.
“20 offensive rebounds in the game, that’s going to give them a lot of easy looks,” Kravish said.
“Allen said it: We played with no heart and no passion,” Kravish continued, his voice shaking. “Going into halftime down 14, the consensus is we have a whole half to play hard, and we didn’t.”
N’Diaye’s post presence -- he posted game-highs with four blocks, five offensive rebounds and seven defensive rebounds -- also pulled the defense away from junior guard C.J. Wilcox, who scored a game-high 19 points, adding seven rebounds and four assists.
“I think that Aziz was huge in there, as far as a physical presence,” Montgomery said. “It was really hard for Robert and [Richard] Solomon to rebound, because they just couldn’t get into a position to jump because he’s 270, 280 ... He was clearly a factor. He blocked four shots, but I wonder how many shots he affected in other ways, when we went in there.”
Cal turned in its third-worst first half of the season shooting against Washington, hitting 8-of-22 from the field (36.4 percent). Only the first halves against UCLA (37.1) and Creighton (32.4) were worse.
The Bears saw six of their first eight points come from the paint over the first 3:48. But, the much longer Huskies (10-5, 2-0) came to dominate the inside, scoring 24 of their 34 first-half points from inside, and out-rebounding Cal by 16.
"I think that our guards did a very poor job of going and chasing down balls and getting involved," Montgomery said. "Once we got down, we kind of caved a little bit. We caved to pressure and we let them have their way with us."
With the Bears down, 16-13 and with Washington nursing its largest lead to that point with just under 10 minutes left, N’Diaye’s engine began to turn over. Guard Abdul Gady dished inside to N’Diaye, who spun around Thurman and Richard Solomon to the mid post and hit a hook to make it 18-15, giving the Huskies their largest lead to that point.
After Cal’s initial spurt inside, the Bears scored just four more points in the paint for the remaining 16:12 of the first half, as Kravish was man-handled by a much bigger, much stronger N’Diaye, who finished the game with 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting and a game-high 12 rebounds. N’Diaye nearly out-rebounded the Bears as a team on the defensive glass, with Cal pulling down just 11 offensive boards.
The Bears did come back to score 18 points in the paint in the second half, but could not penetrate with any kind of consistency, as both Crabbe and Justin Cobbs were manhandled by N’Diaye and Desmond Simmons, who combined to pull down a total of 11 defensive rebounds. Cal was just 9-for-19 in the paint in the second half, with four of those shots coming from the hands of Kravish, who scored a team-high 14 on 7-of-10 shooting.
After coming in as the fifth-best three-point shooting team in the conference, the Huskies started the game 0-for-8 from beyond the arc, and finished the night 2-for-11, depending instead on scoring inside, with 32 points in the paint and 24 of those scored in the first half.
Despite Washington being the third-worst team in the league in three-point defense, and with Cal finding no easy looks inside, the Bears did not capitalize and attempted just one three-pointer in the first half -- a wide-open make by Crabbe from the left wing with 15:14 to go before the break -- and six total over the course of the game, without another make.
Exacerbating the Bears’ shooting woes was the third straight poor performance from Cobbs. After a 4-for-15 night from the floor, Cobbs has now hit just 12 of his last 40 shots over the past three games.
"Shots going in have an awful lot to do with shot selection," Montgomery said. "You've got to be able to get shots you can make and obviously they're forcing him and I thought he tried to take the ball a step too far, rather than stop and rise up. One thing we haven't done a very good job of, is lifting people and getting to the foul line because they're playing with so much pressure on us. Usually you get a lot of holding and banging from Washington at their place, and you don't get that so much on the road, but they were pretty aggressive and we didn't react well."
After a 6-0 start, Cal has gone lost six of its last nine games, including four at home.
"It's certainly not the first time we've seen that," Montgomery said of his team's lack of mental toughness. "We'll continue to challenge them. I told them, 'It's got to be important to you.' You're going to have to understand that we physically are not superior to everybody. We can't walk out on the floor and just be better than everybody. We're going to have to really compete to have a chance. I don't think that's totally ingrained in us."