BERKELEY -- The anticipated matchup in California's conference homecoming versus Arizona State was the face-off between arguably the two best point guards in the conference -- Sun Devils sophomore Jahii Carson, and Bears senior Justin Cobbs.
Both Cobbs and Carson are electric, steady and exciting on the basketball court. Both run their own respective half-court offenses to near perfection. Both are in the running for conference player of the year. Both even share the same initials.
And in Cal's 89-78 overtime loss to Arizona State, both guards were able to showcase their offensive skillset against each other. At times, both Carson and Cobbs took turns running up and down the floor untouched in getting to the basket.
The first half numbers for both reflected the offensive dominance of the scoring point guards. Both finished the first half with 11 points on efficient shooting. The difference, however, was Carson's ability to drive and dish -- many times uncontested. Carson finished the first half with five assists -- all on three-point buckets. The result? A 42-30 Arizona State lead at the break.
"Jahii is a special talent," said Arizona State coach Herb Sendek. "Obviously, we rely on him to do so much for us. he had a terrific game tonight with 29 points."
Cobbs' offensive gameplan was to simply get to the cup, with three of his four first-half field goals coming off of layups driving to the basket. Going 3-for-4 from the free throw line also helped his offensive efficiency, which helped keep Cal close for much of the first half.
Carson did much the same in the first stanza, scoring or assisting on 26 of Arizona State's 42 points. The result of both guards' aggressive play was quick foul trouble for the other. The consequence of that was three minutes of pure back-and-forth basketball, as Cobbs and Carson just went after each other on the basketball court with no defense, scoring layup after layup.
With defense clearly a nonfactor, both teams finally switched up their man-defense, as Cal coach Mike Montgomery put Tyrone Wallace on Carson, while Sendek primarily placed Jermaine Marshall on Cobbs.
From that moment forward, both guards stopped worrying about drawing another foul on their man, and instead focused on actually running their offense in the second half. Cobbs started the second half by setting up forward David Kravish and guard Tyrone Wallace to do the primary scoring. As a result, the Bears were far more efficient offensively -- this despite Cobbs' shooting struggles to begin second half.
Carson, meanwhile, continued to do the heavy lifting for the Sun Devils, scoring seven points while dishing out two more assists. His attacking the basket also earned him four crucial second-half trips to the free throw line, giving Arizona State what would wind up be crucial bonus points at the end of the game.
With the Bears down by 10 with seven minutes left, Cobbs found his aggressive side again, and helped Cal storm right back. In the final seven minutes of regulation, Cobbs went 4-for-4 -- all layups -- to give Cal the lead. But, up by three and a defensive stand away from securing a sixth conference win – and breaking a two-game Pac-12 slide -- Cal's defense could not come through, as Marshall came free off a curl and knocked down a clutch three with 17.7 seconds left. The game would go into overtime, where Cobbs disappeared, and Carson shined.
Carson started the extra frame with a 24-foot three-pointer as the shot clock struck zero. After that, he simply worked the offense and found ways to get to the line as the Sun Devils pulled away. In the overtime, Arizona State scored 17 points -- 11 of which were scored by Carson. From the opening three-point shot to the ensuing free throws, Carson simply dominated.
Carson finished with 29 points on 8-for-17 shooting from the field and 12-for-16 from the line. His seven total assists lead to seven Arizona State three-point shots, all of which were ultimately needed.
"They played better than we did," Cobbs said, somberly, eyes downcast, after the game.
"We got down big and fought back, but we gave it back to them," said Wallace, likewise dour. "We had the lead, they hit the three to go into overtime and we didn't execute in overtime."
Cobbs finished with 21 points of 9-for-19 shooting, nabbing three steals. While Cobbs' offensive game was up-and-down, he simply took over at the end of regulation -- enough for what should have been Cal's sixth win in conference.
But in overtime, Jahii Carson dominated. In a game where the two best players just went back and forth at each other, that proved to be the difference.
BY THE NUMBERS: Late Night With Carson
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