BERKELEY – The California basketball team finally looked like it was playing angry. On Thursday, the players called what junior guard Allen Crabbe termed a “Come-to-Jesus meeting,” and judging by Saturday’s result, the Bears found religion, downing Washington State to the tune of 67-54, despite surrendering a season-worst 21 offensive rebounds, besting the 21 offensive boards allowed on Wednesday in a 62-47 loss to Washington.
“After the Washington game, we felt like we needed a little Come-to-Jesus meeting, with the team” said Crabbe. “You’ve got to play harder. You can’t go out there and not play with energy. Like David [Kravish] said last press conference, he just said we went out there with no heart and no passion. We didn’t even care. But, we all just told each other that we’re going to get more serious, if we want to make a run at this Pac-12. We were capable of doing it. We have all the weapons that we need to be successful, so we just told each other that we’ve all get on the same page and just play harder.”
Richard Solomon jealously pulled down a team-high eight rebounds, including six on the defensive end, and scored seven points in 21 minutes during his second game in a row coming off the bench, and contributed six of the team’s program-record 11 blocks.
“That was one of our strategies -- our game plan -- was to attack, attack, attack,” said Cougars head coach Ken Bone. “When you don’t get fouled and you don’t hardly get a shot off sometimes, it gets hard, and guys don’t want to really attack the rim if they’re coming up empty-handed all the time. We were not able to get to the free-throw line very often doing that, and quite often, Cal did a great job of blocking shots.”
Just five minutes into the first half -- and after already having swatted away a Brock Motum jumper, Solomon again stoned the second-leading scorer in the Pac-12 on a three-ball, allowing the 6-foot-10 big man to run the break with Justin Cobbs for the thunderous dunk to put the Bears up by three.
“[Defense] was the thing that kept us in there,” said Bears head coach Mike Montgomery. “I thought we had some good defensive performances. I thought Justin was pretty good consistently, across the board. He was working hard, and I thought Bak did a pretty nice job on Motum. He really paid attention to the scouting report and tried to take some things away from him. Really, if it hadn’t been for second chance points or 21 offensive rebounds, free-throw line, etc., we’d have had a really good defensive performance. It was just something we had to do. Everybody wants to talk about how we’re grinding or how it’s not pretty. Get used to it fellas. It ain’t changing. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. We’re not going to go out there, and, all of the sudden, turn into the ’76 Knicks. It’s not happening. We’re going to have to play defense, we’re going to have to get more physical. People have pretty much handled us, and we’re going to have to try to push back a little bit. We’re just going to have to work it. Every game is going to have different sorts of issues that we’re going to have to deal with, and that’s the way it’s going to be.”
On the afternoon, the Cougars (9-7, 0-3 in the Pac-12) scored 28 points in the paint, but hit just 14 of 29 from the key.
In contrast, the Bears (10-6, 2-2) scored 22 points in the paint, but hit 10-of-20 attempts, including all but one lay-up with two dunks -- both by Solomon, and both in the second half.
“Richard and David have got pretty long arms and can block shots; what we did say to them is, when the ball got on the side, we were trying to stay attached to Motum,” Montgomery said. “We told the weak side guy not to go out to the other corner, and when they drove in there, we got some blocks and did a pretty good job with that. We had actually watched on film – and I’m sure they picked up on this – that Washington State had driven to the basket against Stanford and [Dwight] Powell came from the weak side and blocked shots. They probably had watched that and figured there were some opportunities. Of course Richard loves to block shots, so that’s a part of it, but they really don’t have a low post game, per se. Most of theirs is away from the basket and drives. I thought we probably took a little momentum away from them. Unfortunately, we didn’t possess the ball every time that we did that, and ended up playing back on defense.”
Seldom-used big man Bak Bak -- after notching just his fourth career assist a week ago at USC -- scored a season-high five points, and while he only pulled down one rebound, he largely stifled the Pac-12’s second-leading scorer Motum, holding him to just six points after halftime. Bak also recorded one steal.
“We all picked it up on defense,” said Crabbe, who finished with one rebound, two assists and a steal, as the Bears forced 12 turnovers. “Coach said that he wanted us to start pressuring the ball when it gets to the wing, so that Washington State couldn’t get into any sets, trying to get Motum the ball. I just felt like the defense led to some good offensive play for us. We did a good job today.”
Bak started an 8-2 run for the Bears with a baseline jumper with 13:01 left in the game. The Cougars would narrow the lead to one with 12:08 left in the game, thanks to a lay-up and an and-one by Mike Ladd -- who pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds, including nine on the offensive glass.
Motum, though, was stifled by Bak, shooting just 2-for-6 in the second half.
“Bak came in big for us,” said freshman guard Tyrone Wallace. “Motum was obviously a guy who we were prepping for a lot. We didn’t want him getting any open shots, and Bak was just sticking to him, and that frustrated him a lot and he wasn’t able to score.”
As a team, Washington State shot 20-for-60 from the field (33.3 percent) and in the second half, shot just 10-for-32. The biggest difference came at the free-throw line, where the Cougars hit just 10 of 21 attempts -- with Motum going 4-for-6 -- while the Bears sunk 28 of 36 (77.8 percent).
Wallace did not start because he missed the morning shoot-around, but nevertheless poured in a game-high 16 points -- with nine of them coming in the second half. After being held scoreless in the Bears’ previous two home games against Harvard and Washington, Wallace set a career scoring high, besting his previous high of 13 points against UNLV on Dec. 9.
“We’re aware of how good a player he is,” Bone said of Wallace. “He did a great job tonight, scored a lot of those from the free-throw line. Their team did a great job of hitting free throws, but not as good as Stanford [earlier in the week]. Stanford hit 24 of 26 against us, but we’re very aware of Wallace and what he’s capable of doing, and he had a good game on a night when it’s not like Crabbe and Cobbs were bad, but they’re more of a team than just Crabbe and Cobbs. They showed that tonight, with Wallace.”
Wallace -- who finished the game 4-for-8 from the field and 7-for-11 from the free-throw line -- had to take charge of scoring, as Cobbs -- who had gone 12-for-40 from the field over the past three games -- did not take a single shot from the field in the first half, and did not put a shot up until 14:49 left in the game.
“I just take the game how it comes to me,” Wallace said. “I was able to get some looks and I was able to score some points for us. That’s what the defense gave us, so I just took advantage.”
Wallace also chipped in on the defensive end, as, with the Bears up seven with 3:25 left, Motum broke free on the break for a lay-up, only to have it swatted away from behind by Wallace. The Cougars would not score again until Motum hit the front end of a pair of free throws with 0:56 left. Cal went on a 12-0 run from 5:51 to 1:02.
“I believe it was my fault,” Wallace said. “I was supposed to initially be back, so they couldn’t even pass over, and I had one out to a wing to guard my guy, and they threw over the top of me, so I was like, ‘Aw man, I have to hurry up and sprint back,’ and I was able to get a block. I felt I had a good chance. I was right on him when he went up, so I just tried to go for it, and I got it.”
In fact, during the entire first half, the team’s two leading scorers -- Cobbs and Crabbe -- put up a total of two shots.
“I guess he just wanted to distribute the ball more, and get other players going first before he started shooting,” Crabbe said of Cobbs. “He did a great job of moving the ball and he just got us in the spots that we need to get into in order to score.”
Cobbs finished the game 2-for-2 from the field and 6-for-6 from the charity stripe for 10 points. He also dished out a game-high five assists, as Cal tallied 10 helpers on 18 field goals.
Crabbe became much more aggressive after the break, when, with the Bears up by just two points, he hit a lay-up and a three within the first minute to put Cal up by five points. Neither team would lead by more than three points for the next nine minutes, when the Bears went up by four thanks to a Wallace sinking both ends of a one-and-one.
Crabbe scored 10 of his 14 points after the half.
Ryan Gorcey publishes Cal Sports Digest and writes about Major League Baseball for FOXSportsNEXT. Follow him on Twitter @RGBearTerritory.