With California down one, and the game clock hitting five seconds, junior guard – and leading scorer -- Tyrone Wallace drove towards the lane, only to find no space. Instead of forcing a shot, or trying to split through traffic, Wallace quickly kicked the ball out to an off-balance Sam Singer at the top of the key. Singer, who’s been a bit shy when stepping up to take his own shot as of late, jab-stepped his defender away, cocked back, and let fly with a three-ball. It hit nothing but net, icing the game-winner in a 90-88 win over Washington for a season sweep of the Huskies, and the second win in a row for the Bears.
“It felt great,” said Singer, who was 4-for-29 from three before Sunday. “I was in a little bit of a slump, this whole year, but I kept working, and it feels great to have it all pay off with that three, especially at the time that I did it.
“Initially, I was going to drive, and I knew [Andrew] Andrews was going to contest hard. I was going to try to drive, get in the lane, and hit David [Kravish], who was rolling, or shoot, myself. He played back and didn’t really close out, so I let it go. I looked up at the clock, saw there were six seconds and let it go.”
What was going through Singer’s head?
“I’d hit game-winners, but I hadn’t hit a shot of that magnitude in college,” Singer said. “To see coach [Cuonzo] Martin jumping up and down, I kind of ran into his arms and he hugged me. It’s surreal. I’m at a loss for words.” With an excellent offensive performance led by a 60% shooting night – Cal’s highest of the season -- the Bears swept the Washington schools, putting a six-game losing streak in the rearview mirror.
“It’s just one win,” Singer said. “We have to get the next one.”
After the ball went in, Cal still had to play five more seconds of defense, with Nigel Williams-Goss taking a final, errant three.
“The ball went in, I looked up, and the ball went to [Nigel] Williams-Goss, and I was hoping they wouldn’t throw it to my side, because I was trying to find my man. I didn’t know where he was,” Singer said. “He stopped, and I was just praying the ball didn’t go in.”
Cal (13-9, 3-6 Pac-12) opened up a large lead in the middle of the first half going on a 12-2 run, to lead by thirteen. However, the Huskies were determined to make this a close game, finishing the first half on a 14-3 run of their own, with both teams going back and forth in the second half.
While it was a strong shooting performance for the Bears, they still had a few areas of weakness keeping the opposition in the game. Led by four from Wallace, Cal turned the ball over 14 times – the 12th time this season the Bears have reached double digits -- giving the Huskies many easy opportunities for transition baskets. Washington scored 19 points off of those 14 turnovers. Accompanied by some lackadaisical defending, Washington’s numerous easy points kept them within striking distance of the Bears.
The Bears were led by Singer’s clutch basket – his fifth bucket in 8 shots -- but it truly was a team performance. Singer scored 11 points, tallied five rebounds, and five assists, in one of his most complete games as a Bear. Fellow guards Jordan Mathews and Tyrone Wallace contributed another 23 and 21 points, respectively. Center David Kravish looked back to his old self, scoring numerous times down low, adding 16 points and nine rebounds, and moved past Michael Stewart (207 blocks from 1994-97) on the all-time blocks list with his two rejections, to make his total 208 in 124 games.
Cal started off well, with the Bears maintaining a slim lead for the first 12 minutes. Soon after, Cal went on the 12-2 run, and the Bears looked to be in cruise control. However, Washington answered with three three-pointers in the last three minutes and cut the halftime lead to just two, with Cal leading at the break 43-41.
Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin decided to start with a similar lineup of Dwight Tarwater, Bird, Mathews, Kravish and Wallace that has rarely changed since Bird’s return from injury.
Off the bench, Brandon Chuaca added two points in ten minutes, but looked impressive directing traffic as the point guard, allowing Wallace to wander off the ball. Besides Singer and Chauca, there were no points from the bench with Christian Behrens, Roger Moute a Bidias and Kingsley Okoroh having minimal impact off the bench.
With huge height and depth advantages after the Huskies dismissed star player Robert Upshaw for a reported marijuana violation, Cal easily won the rebounding battle, 38-22, but lost the turnover battle badly, 14-7, which allowed the Huskies to stay in the game.
The Huskies were led by guard Williams-Gross, who tore up the Bears defense, adding a game high 31 points, six rebounds, and five assists. Fellow starters Andrew Andrews and Shawn Kemp Jr. added 17 and 11 points respectively.
After halftime, it was close throughout, with neither team maintaining a lead of more than five points. More poor turnovers plagued the Bears, but luckily for Cal, their high shooting percentage of 60% from the field, kept them in the game.