BERKELEY -- Returning home from a trip to Los Angeles, the California men’s basketball team was looking to get back into the form that had it receiving votes for the Associated Press Top 25 rankings just a week ago. However, yet another disastrously slow start forced a valiant – and yet futile -- comeback effort as the Bears continued their slide in Pac-12 play with an 89-78 overtime loss to Arizona State.
“They played better than we did,” said senior guard Justin Cobbs.
Cal (14-6, 5-3 Pac-12) kept the same starting lineup from the previous eight games with Cobbs, Jordan Mathews and Tyrone Wallace in the backcourt, despite Wallace having gone 2-for-18 against USC and UCLA. Wallace proved to be one of the key contributors in the second half, scoring 15 of his 20 total points on a scorching 5-of-7 shooting.
In part thanks to Wallace and Cobbs, despite being down 16 with 18:35 left in the second half, Cal came storming back, and, with 45 seconds remaining, the Bears gained their first lead since 18:06 was left in the first half, thanks to a Sam Singer three-pointer and a Cobbs lay-in, with two made free throws by David Kravish putting Cal up by three.
Then, on the heels of a time-out, Jermaine Marshall curled off a screen to nail a three-pointer right in front of the Arizona State bench to tie the game with 17 seconds left – the first time the two teams were knotted up since the opening tip.
“We knew what they were going to run,” said head coach Mike Montgomery. “They ran hammer, which, we drew it up. We drew it up on the time out. We had the size. We wanted to switch everything. The big didn’t at least show out or anything. We didn’t want to foul with 25 seconds to go. I think that’s too much. We could have, obviously, in retrospect.”
The Sun Devils (16-5, 5-3) were led on the night by point guard Jahii Carson, who seemed to score and penetrate at will against the Bears defense. He contributed 29 points and seven assists, while Marshall contributed 22 points.
Carson scored 11 of Arizona State’s 17 points in overtime, mostly from the free throw line, where he went 8-for-8 in the extra stanza en route to a 12-for-16 night from the charity stripe. While Cobbs woke up and scored 10 points on 5-of-11 shooting in the second half, he went completely dormant in overtime.
“Jahii is a special talent,” said Sun Devils head coach Herb Sendek. “Obviously we rely on him to do so much for us. He had a terrific game tonight with 29 points. ”
Due to early foul trouble that caused him to miss most of the first half, senior Arizona State center Jordan Bachynski contributed only four points and three rebounds, and yet, Cal could not capitalize on his absence, despite 21 points and three assists from Cobbs, 20 points and six boards from Wallace and 16 points from Kravish.
Despite Bachynski’s absence, senior Bears center Richard Solomon tallied just eight points on 3-of-6 shooting, and, more importantly, just 2-of-7 from the free-throw line. He did, however, tally a game-high 13 rebounds.
“Emotionally, we have a hard time when things go wrong,” said Montgomery. “We just have a hard time adjusting and reacting to that. They made some plays, and body language goes down. They got a second life with the three and the energy swung to them.”
The game was extremely fast paced with both teams hoping to run and beat the other team down the floor. However, the Sun Devils ultimately capitalized on the fast pace scoring 17 fast break points to the Bears’ 6.
“I thought they really ran the floor early,” Montgomery said. “They got out there when the disparity in fast break points was pretty bad, like 10-2, where they were getting points off the break and we couldn’t get anything.”
Cal matched Arizona State’s shooting from the field on the game, though in the first half, the Sun Devils poured it down at a 53.1% clip, while the Bears had trouble early, shooting 38.5% from the field over the first 11:23. Though Cal finished the half at a respectable 48% from the field, the Bears were drastically outshot from three, with the Cal hitting 31% on the night compared to 48% for Arizona State.
“I thought we were kind of sticky with the ball,” said Montgomery. “They were packing the paint daring us to shoot the three and one of the things we’re struggling with now is we’re not shooting the ball very well. Truth of the matter is, we’re not shooting the ball very well. “
Cal got behind early, already losing 11-5 at the first media timeout just five minutes into the game, and the Bears never seemed to be able to catch up, with the Sun Devils maintaining a comfortable lead throughout the first half.
“Teams are playing better than we are,” said Montgomery. I mean, there’s no mystery about starting a game. It’s a game of basketball. You got to make plays, you got to make shots, you got to defend.”
In the first half Cal’s offense was suffocated by the ASU defense as they shot 48% from the field and 20% from three resulting in a paltry 30 points at the break. On the other hand, the Sun Devils came out streaking. Carson ran the floor and finished at the rim consistently throughout the early going as ASU shot 53% from the field and 50% from three to start the game.
“Obviously basketball is a game of runs and with the three-point shot and all the things that happen in sports you don’t have control over what happens,” said Sendek. “You just have to make the next play. Clearly, you have to give Cal credit for coming back. They kept battling, but I am so proud of our guys.”
However, at halftime, it all changed for the Bears. After a quick run for the Sun Devils to run the lead to a game high 16 points, Cal started to come storming back. With an 18-5 run over the final six minutes of regulation, Haas Pavilion roared to life as Kravish finished off his free throws to give the Bears a three point lead, but it was a lead that wouldn’t last, as Cal didn’t have enough left to finish, with Arizona State out-scoring the Bears 17-6 in overtime.
“[Montgomery] said we need to start stronger,” said Wallace. “We got down big and fought back but we gave it back to them. We had the lead, they hit the three to go into overtime and we didn’t execute in overtime.”
While this is another disappointing loss for a Bears squad that has lost three straight after starting out 5-0 in Pac-12 play, they must quickly regroup before they face an even tougher test this Saturday night versus No. 1 Arizona, the first No. 1 team to come to Haas since the Wildcats came to town as the top team in the land on Feb. 27, 2003. Arizona defeated Cal, 88-75.
“We have to win,” said Cobbs. “We can’t keep losing games at home. We’ve dropped three straight so we have to preform, we have to win.”