Arizona State played some of its best basketball of the Pac-12 season on Senior Night. Just not enough of it.
In the end, it was a Cal senior, guard Tyrone Wallace, who took the game over in the second half, leading the Golden Bears from a 10 point deficit to a 68-65 win over the Sun Devils in front of 6,276 fans Wells Fargo Arena Saturday.
ASU's regular season concluded at 15-16 overall and 5-13 in Pac-12 play. Cal is 22-9 and 12-6, with a first-round bye in the next week's Pac-12 Tournament as the third seed. No. 11 seed ASU will play Oregon State in Wednesday's nightcap of a quadruple header in Las Vegas.
Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and Celtics general manager Danny Ainge sat courtside together at the game, two seats removed from ASU Vice President of Athletics Ray Anderson. Presumably they were there primarily to see talented Cal freshmen Jaylen Brown -- a likely lottery pick -- and Ivan Rabb, a first round candidate.
Wallace, though, had to have also caught their attention. 19 of his game-high 24 points came in the second half. He was responsible for several key offensive sequences in the period, including a contested dunk that brought Cal's bench to its feet and keyed a 20-9 run that concluded with Cal re-taking the lead, 48-47. Eight of Cal's 20 points in the stretch run came from Wallace.
In the game's final 90 seconds, several crucial calls went against the Sun Devils that were very questionable.
With Cal leading 61-59, Brown attacked ASU senior Eric Jacobsen laterally off the dribble on the perimeter and Jacobsen was called for a blocking foul with just over a minute left in the game that had ASU coach Bobby Hurley seething.
"It was a tough call in the moment of the game," Jacobsen said. "I tried to get out and hedge and I don't know. The ref was put in a tough position and made the call the way he did."
Hurley said it was pretty clear-cut what happened.
"Usually I would say that I have to go review it and look at it again, but I did look at it again on the monitor up on the top there (over the court)," Hurley said. "I know what happened and that's all I'm going to say about it. I know what happened in that play."
Wallace made one of two free throws, then ASU sophomore point guard Tra Holder cut through the teeth of Cal's defense and tried to get the ball to the corner to junior Obi Oleka, but it was just off Oleka's fingers and went out of bounds.
On the ensuing inbounds, Cal's Jabari Bird appeared to stumble and travel before being fouled by ASU senior Willie Atwood, but instead, Bird went to the foul line. He made both free throws to put Cal up 65-60 with 26 seconds left, and a late dunk by Jacobsen and 3-pointer by ASU senior Gerry Blakes were not enough.
Jacobsen led ASU with 20 points and six rebounds, the first time in his career he had double digit scoring in three straight games. Blakes had 14 points, six rebounds and six assists.
"It doesn't mean a lot," Jacobsen said. "We still lost the game. For me, it's not about points or stats or anything like that."
ASU played impressive man-to-man defense throughout the game, but its offense failed at a critical juncture against Cal's length and athleticism. The Sun Devils made just 2 of 12 field goals through one four minute scoring drought in the second half.
“There was a lot of contact out there, it was at both ends of the floor,’’ Hurley said. “We got ourselves in the penalty, and unfortunately there were some whistles away from the basket as their players were driving. They were fortunate to get to the line and did a pretty good job making their free throws when they mattered most.”
After unsuccessfully playing a lot of zone defense and a bit different approach to its man scheme at various stages of the Pac-12 schedule, perhaps due in part to a lack of scholarship depth, Hurley lamented it might have been a mistake.
“The focus that we have at that end of the floor, and some of it, I’ll take the hit on not seeing a lot of this sooner just in terms of how we need to guard and how important the paint is,’’ Hurley said. “The guys are starting to get it (regarding) where they need to be at that end of the floor. We had some hard lessons to get to this point.”
ASU's defense was perhaps at its best late in the first half. After Cal took a 22-14 lead, the Sun Devils had a big run that electrified the Wells Fargo crowd.
Junior forward Savon Goodman and an And-1, followed by an Oleka three-pointer. The Sun Devils used a 19-6 run to take a 33-28 halftime lead. Then, ASU started the second half by scoring the period's first five points to get to its largest lead.
Cal climbed back though, with Wallace doing much of the damage. His baseline dunk on Jacobsen was a key point, enabled by a defensive lapse at the top of the key by Oleka on a hedge. It sparked a 9-0 run that gave Cal the lead.
“I feel terrible for our seniors,’’Hurley said.
"We gave a winning effort tonight," Hurley said. "We played a game that could have got us a win against a really good team and it didn't go our way. So we'll pick the pieces up and get to work tomorrow."