ANALYSIS: Renewed spirit comes through

Renewed defensive intensity, attention to detail gets California back to .500 in Pac-12 play.

BERKELEY, Calif. – From a statistical standpoint, California might not see a stranger disconnect the rest of the season.

The Golden Bears got a convincing win over Washington State despite committing 19 turnovers, allowing 21 offensive rebounds, and guard Justin Cobbs attempting just two shots.

The difference was the one thing that the analytics revolution cannot measure: effort. Cal played Saturday afternoon with an intensity and commitment that was thoroughly lacking during the mid-week loss to Washington.

"I think we had more focus today," guard Allen Crabbe said. "We knew how important this game was for us, so we wanted to make sure we did all the little things."

Crabbe said the team held a players' only session on Thursday, describing it as a "come to Jesus meeting," and it certainly looked like there was an extra touch of spirit evident at Haas Pavilion.

Asked what was discussed, Crabbe said it was all about intensity and trust. "Just got to play harder," he said. "Can't go out there and not play without energy."

"It just seemed like we didn't even care. We all just told each other we were going to be more serious if we wanted to make a run at this Pac-12. We're capable of doing it."

The contrast between the two games against the Washington schools couldn't have been more obvious. Against the Huskies, Cal was 3-of-11 from the free-throw line, missing the front end of several 1-and-1 opportunities. Against the Cougars, they were 28-of-36, making 12 straight to salt the game away before Tyrone Wallace finally missed one with 52 seconds left in the second half.

Cal was diving for loose balls, tying a school record by blocking 11 shots, and making the extra pass, details that had been lacking.

Even the one breakdown in that regard – Wallace arriving late for the team shootaround, which resulted in Jeff Powers making his third career start – turned out to be a positive, as the freshman delivered a game-high 16 points as a reserve to bolster a less than scintillating offense.

Crabbe and Cobbs were content to defer to teammates when necessary, combining for just two shots and four points in the first half, but aggressively attacking the rim after the break.

But that was more than acceptable when the defense was so stout. Washington State forward Brock Motum had been averaging 20 points per game, second only to Crabbe in the conference, making nearly half of his shots from the field.

Motum was held to 16 points, making only 5-of-14 attempts.

Cal players took their turn frustrating him. Richard Solomon swatted three Motum shots and took a charge, Bak Bak rarely allowed Motum an uncontested shot, while Wallace turned away Motum and the last bit of Washington State momentum with 2:55 left in the game.

Motum got behind the defense for a homerun pass because of a missed assignment by Wallace, but he recovered to reject Motum's dunk from behind and keep the Cal advantage at 58-51.

"I had to hurry back and sprint back, and I was able to get the block," Wallace said.

That play was reflective of the effort Cal played with the entire game, the effort that was lacking against Washington.

Maintaining that kind of tenacious defense will be the difference moving forward, head coach Mike Montgomery said.

"It was just something we had to do," Montgomery said.

"Get used to it fellas. This ain't changing."

Dan Greenspan writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.


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