BERKELEY, Calif. – On Wednesday, California senior point guard Justin Cobbs missed a wide-open jumper – the would-be dagger in the heart of Arizona State – in the final seconds of regulation. On Saturday, against No. 1 Arizona, he got every last bit of net. With 14 seconds left, the game tied and one timeout, Cobbs came down the court and nailed a fadeaway jumper to his left, completing the best performance from Cal this season, and sending Haas Pavilion into a frenzy and the student section flooding Pete Newell Court.
“It was a flat screen,” said Cal Head Coach Mike Montgomery. “We screwed it up the other night. Justin could have gone either way and he got to his left and we loaded up the other side. He got up and the guy contested it pretty good. It just was pure.”
Pure joy gripped the gold cascade that spilled over the stands with what proved to be still 0.9 seconds left in the game. It turned out, though, that the celebration would just have to wait one more tick of the clock, as the Golden Bears upset the top-ranked Wildcats, 60-58.
[What did a local five-star think of the win? Find out HERE]
“We talked about it,” said Cobbs. “No timeouts [sic], we should just run it straight into a pick and roll. I wanted to see if I could get to the basket but Tarczewski did a good job and I couldn’t get there, so I just stepped back and shot a good shot. It went in for me.”
Coming in on their worst run of form since last season, Cal needed to rebound quickly after losing its third straight Pac-12 game to the Sun Devils, and freshman Jabari Bird said as much during the week: “We’re a good team, ourselves; we’re just struggling right now. There’s no better way to get out of a slump than to beat the No. 1 team in the country.”
On Saturday, that’s exactly what the Bears did, knocking off the nation’s top squad at Haas Pavilion for the first time ever.
With a small lead throughout for most of the game, the Bears relied on a heavy dose of big men Richard Solomon and David Kravish in the first half, as they outplayed the Arizona frontcourt, depleted by the loss of Brandon Ashley to a broken foot early -- an injury which will likely be season-ending. Solomon pitched in 12 points and seven rebounds, while his partner Kravish tallied his fifth double-double of the season, adding 14 points and 11 boards of his own.
“I thought David had a few good looks that didn’t go in,” said Montgomery. “We did a pretty good job on the boards. It was a little bit like Oregon, it felt good the entire time. ”
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However, for all the frontcourt play, Cal still had four scorers in double figures. Cobbs – to go along with his game-high 19 points –also dished out a game-high seven assists to go along with two rebounds and a steal. Cobbs dominated the second half of the game, scoring all of the Bears’ points in the last 11 minutes of the game. Sophomore Tyrone Wallace also played one his best games of the season after struggling badly shooting the ball over the last two weeks. He added 11 points and two assists.
Cal was able to outshoot the Wildcats, shooting 45% from the field as opposed to the Wildcat’s 32%. Similarly from three, the Bears shot 50% (4-for-8) while the Wildcats only shot a measly 18% (2-for-11).
The Wildcats were led by 18 points from big man Kaleb Tarczewski, who went 12-of-12 from the free throw line -- one of only three Wildcats to shoot free throws. T.J. McConnell added an additional 13 points and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 10 for the Wildcats. Arizona struggled from the field in general, continuing there poor shooting from earlier in the week against Stanford. In particular, star guard Nick Johnson went 1-14 from the field epitomizing the shooting struggle for the No. 1 team.
“The point that I made to the team is, we probably have been in 10 games that at the four minute marker of the game is representative of how tonight was -- 10 times,” said Arizona head coach Sean Miller. “Tonight in the same moment we didn’t make the shots and we didn’t get the big stop and I credit Cal, who did a really good job and played a great game and we lost a hard fought game.”
The Bears led from the beginning, with Arizona only gaining a brief lead for 17 seconds in the first half. Cal held a slight advantage throughout the first half, with the Cal defense suffocating the Arizona offense, in one of the best defensive performances for the team all year.
Solomon, who was dominant in the first half, picked up some quick and questionable fouls throughout the game. When he had to sit, Montgomery had interesting substitution patterns in the first half. Bringing in freshman Kameron Rooks after just seven minutes was a definite change of pace from other games earlier in the year. Montgomery paired the center with freshman point Sam Singer in an interesting lineup filled with three freshman for a very important three-minute stretch in the first half.
“It’s a team game,” said Solomon. “I can’t be worried about what happens to me. If I’m not in the game, then the best thing I can do is cheer my teammates on, and make sure everyone is tuned into the game, and just provide that energy off the bench. ”
As the first half wore down, it became clear that this close game would come down to the wire. Cal had a nine-point lead with five minutes left in the half, but the Wildcats closed the first half on a 10-2 run to cut the lead to one, and make it a 30-29 game at halftime.
“We’re a great team,” said Cobbs. “We got so many offensive pieces that can score. I feel like we should be undefeated in conference also. We got so many weapons, but it’s just the fact that we need to execute and have a mental focus.”
The second half was much like the first, with the game continuing on a back and forth pace. At times, the Bears looked like they were poised to pull away, stretching their lead to eight with 11 minutes to go, but Arizona kept the game close right until the end, where the Wildcats had multiple chances to take the lead or seal the game in their favor.
While this game was supposed to be a tough one for Cal, the Bears played one of it’s best games of the season and displayed a resiliency that hadn’t been seen this season thus far. This game gives them a much-needed boost as they look to turn around their poor Pac-12 form in the second half of the conference schedule, and start a winning run of their own to reach the NCAA tournament.
As they try to reach the top of a strong Pac-12 conference, they’ll need to repeat performances like todays if they hope to be a force in the postseason.
“I think last year, they were 5-5 at one point, and then they had that big turnaround,” Bird said earlier this week. “There’s still time for improvement. We have a lot of hope and confidence.”
In fact, it was on Feb. 2, 2013, that the Bears downed then-No. 10 Oregon and went on an 8-2 run to finish the regular season.
“I know they’re the number one team, but at the end of the day, it’s another Pac-12 win,” said Cobbs. “Teams are just beating up on each other. This is a great conference and we understand how important this win is with them being undefeated and the No. 1 team in the country. But at the end of the day, it’s just another win for us and we’re going to keep moving forward and get ready for Wednesday.”
Who's coming to town on Wednesday? Archrival Stanford, naturally.
Publisher Ryan Gorcey contributed to this report.