Cal Wins Second Straight on Last-Second Three
BERKELEY – With ten seconds remaining, California point guard Tyrone Wallace had his head in his hands after missing the front end of a one-and-one that would have tied the game against USC. Little did he know, that just a few moments later, he would more than make up for his missed free throw.
“As long as there is time on the clock and we’re not down by more than we can score on one possession,” said Wallace. “I was confident we could still win the game.”
After Jordan McLaughlin’s free throw hit the front of the rim with five seconds left, David Kravish snatched the rebound in the middle of the paint, and pushed the ball up the court to Wallace. The junior guard made no mistake, running the floor and evading a double team, before nailing a double-clutch three with Malik Marquetti and Elijah Stewart in his face from 24 feet out to clinch the Bears’ third straight win, a 70-69 squeaker.
The Cal student section quickly stormed the court as Wallace went from scapegoat to hero and the Bears escaped after surrendering what was a 14-point first-half lead.
“We were initially going for a pick play to get Jabari [Bird] or Jordan [Mathews] coming off if they made both free throw,” said Wallace. “They missed and we had to get out. David made a great outlet, and gave it to me up the floor. It was only four seconds, so I thought I could have gone to the basket but I probably wouldn’t get a shot off. So I stopped, and pump faked, got the dude in the air, and then I had enough space to get the shot off. It felt good leaving my hands.”
Like most of the Bears’ games this season, this one was a tale of two halves. In the first, Cal (14-9, 4-6 in Pac-12) dominated pace of play and committed only five turnovers. As Kravish exited the game early with two fouls, Wallace took over, with a team high nine points before the break.
The Bears started off well enough, with a seven point lead against the Trojans (9-13, 1-9) after just eight minutes. They continued to bully play, stretching the lead to 14 with 6:24 to play. USC finished the first half on a 10-5 run and went into the locker room only down nine, with the score 35-26.
“In the first half, we did a great job moving the ball,” said head coach Cuonzo Martin. “I thought it started in the first half when we were up 13 or 14 and had a couple possessions where we were stagnant and settled for shots. All of a sudden [USC] had their heads up, and we felt like we could have taken it to 15 or 17. They had some momentum in the second half and they made plays, but I just thought we were playing catch up. We didn’t really have a good flow to us.”
As good as the Bears looked in the first stanza (shooting 13-of-28 from the field), they looked equally as bad in the second. The second half was littered with nine turnovers, as Cal looked out of sorts on both the offensive and defensive ends, shooting just 39.4% from the field and struggling to contain McLaughlin – who, before the game, was statistically the worst shooter in the Pac-12, with a 33.8 shooting percentage, but finished Thursday with a 7-for-9 mark from the field, and 3-for-5 from three-point range. USC shot 65% from the field in the second half (part of a 22-for-31 run for the last 26 minutes), held back by only nine turnovers of their own.
In their second matchup with the Pac-12 cellar-dwelling Trojans (who started 1-for-11 from the field), the Bears struggled with turnovers, as they have all season. Cal was out-rebounded 37-32, but won the turnover battle 18-14, though neither team looked good with the ball. In addition to Cal’s turnovers (Cal has now turned the ball over more than 10 times in a game in 13 of 23 games), shooting 56% from the line helped the Trojans stay in the game to the very end.
The Trojans were led by guard McLaughlin who had a game-high 20 points, and Katin Reinhardt, who added 16 points. One of the most complete performances on the floor came from center Nikola Jovanovic, who contributed eight points with eight rebounds, and gave the Cal big men – particularly Kravish -- fits throughout the game.
“They were making plays and we were hesitant,” said Martin, who saw Dwight Tarwater and Sam Singer beg off three-pointers in the first half, before taking initiative and sinking one apiece in the second half – including one to lead off the second half from Tarwater. “Our weak side defense wasn’t as good as it should have been. That’s just maturity. That’s a breakdown on our part.”
With just 17 minutes remaining in the game, Cal looked solidly in control. However, an 8-0 run with 12 minutes remaining stemming from missed shots and a growing turnover total plagued the Bears as the Trojans tied the game. For the rest of the contest, USC maintained a small lead, reaching as high as five, until Wallace unleashed the clutch three to win the game.
“It was huge to just get the win,” said Kravish. “Coming off of that tough stretch we had, [it was good to] just starting to see shots going down for us. Obviously we shouldn’t have been in that position, we had a 14-point lead in the first half. We should have been able to maintain that. There is still work to be done, but just starting to see things go our way is huge.”
Cal looked down and out after a disheartening six-game losing streak, but a sweep of the Washington schools combined with a win against USC makes it seem like they have righted the ship. As the team approaches the homestretch of Pac-12 play with a new mindset, every game is now crucial to the advancing to post-season play and the recruiting process.
“You always feel good when you win,” said Martin. “The thing I told our guys is that even after an exhibition game, you have to enjoy the wins because you never know when you get the next one. It’s always tough to play – injuries, key guys go down, stuff happens. Appreciate the wins, learn from them and enjoy them, and continue to move forward, but don’t let them cripple you. I think our guys understand the importance of winning games and appreciating their wins. The only way we can be successful is if we win as a team.”
In addition to the valiant performance by Wallace, who finished with 18 points and four rebounds, Kravish added an efficient performance with 15 points and eight rebounds in only 25 minutes due to foul trouble. Mathews added 12 points, but missed his last four shots.
Fellow starters Bird and Tarwater also added significant contributions with eight points apiece and 13 rebounds between the two.
Martin continued to use the starting lineup of Bird, Tarwater, Mathews, Kravish, and Wallace that has seemingly worked well over the last three games.
Off the bench, Singer was the high scorer with five, but made the most impact with his high energy defense that came in handy late in the game. Normal bench stalwarts Brandon Chauca, and Kingsley Okoroh had minimal impact off the bench.
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