[ANALYSIS: Breaking Down Cal's Last-Minute Win Over UCLA]
BERKELEY -- When asked about California’s 64-62 last-minute win over UCLA on Saturday, California guard Sam Singer said, wearily, “We definitely have got to stop winning like this. It’s not good for us.”
His teammates -- Jabari Bird and the last-minute-shot hero du jour, Dwight Tarwater -- chuckled, broad grins spreading across cheeks more relieved than tired.
How have the past four wins – three in a row decided in the final minute -- aged head coach Cuonzo Martin?
“It's hard to tell, because I don't have any hair,” he said.
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Of Cal’s four straight wins, three have now come on three-pointers in the final minute, and on Saturday, it was Tarwater’s turn to be the hero, taking a swing pass from a curling Tyrone Wallace at the baseline in front of the Bears bench and draining a rainbow three with 18 seconds left to lift Cal –tied for last in the Pac-12 with USC just two weeks ago -- over the Bruins.
“That,” Tarwater said, “was the biggest shot of my life.”
With Kevon Looney closing out on him, Tarwater put quite a bit of arc on the shot, perhaps overcompensating for his lower, flatter trajectories of late.
“I put a ton on,” he laughed. “I put a ton of arc on it. Jabari just said I shot the ball really high, and it went right in, so I guess it was great.”
“We want to find out who’ll hit the next one,” said Singer. “Maybe it’ll be Jordan [Mathews], maybe it’ll be somebody else, but I’d like to get a comfortable win, so in the last minute, we’re not feeling that anxious feeling.”
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Asked when he’ll get his turn on the game-winner merry-go-round, Bird demurred.
“Hopefully, we can start winning comfortably,” Bird smirked, “and I won’t need one, but if I do, hopefully, it goes in.”
“I really don’t know what to feel,” said Tarwater, after letting out a heavy sigh. “It hasn’t really hit me yet. It’s an unbelievable experience, an unbelievable feeling.”
“I’d like to get a comfortable win,” sighed Singer, who shot 5-of-6 from the floor and 3-for-4 from three in the second half, and got the game-winning three against Washington.
Tarwater would not even have been in the game, were it not for the fact that senior big man David Kravish fouling out with 37 seconds left, and he hit his three after going just 1-for-4 the rest of the game, serving as yet another unlikely hero, as Singer was on Sunday.
“Me and Jabari were supposed to cross, but Jabari actually didn’t cross, for whatever reason,” Tarwater said, as Jabari Bird -- sitting to Tarwater’s right, laughed, shyly. “Tyrone got in the paint, kicked it out to me, I shot the ball with confidence, and it went in, thankfully.”
The first person Tarwater went to call after his shot? His father.
“He’ll probably start crying on the phone,” Tarwater grinned. “He gets pretty emotional.”
As for the play itself – designed to get the ball to whoever was open – there was some debate as to the execution.
“Honestly, I can’t remember right now,” Bird laughed, when asked what the play call was. “I’m just thinking about the shot going in. I forgot the play call. I was supposed to cross out …”
“He just didn’t post,” Tarwater chimed in. “He got out of there, eventually.”
“I was a little late,” Bird smiled. “It was a great shot by Dwight, and I’m just happy it went in.”
Bird, for his part, hit two crucial late three-pointers, as the Bears took shots from beyond the arc on five of their last six attempts. Cal has made 18 three-pointers in its last two games (nine each against USC and UCLA).
“Honestly,” Bird said, “we’re on Cloud Nine. The confidence of everybody on the team is tremendous. Everybody’s playing well. We’re moving the ball. We’re kind of like a team, out there, and it’s really fun to be a part of.”
Bird finished 6-of-15 from the field, 3-of-8 from three-point land and 1-of-1 from the charity stripe for a team-high 16 points.
Since starting the season 4-for-29 from beyond the arc, Singer has now gone 5-for-6 from distance. Singer’s 13 second-half points helped buoy Cal -- which shot just 37.7% from the field – against a Bruins team that started the second stanza 4-for-4 and on a 6-0 run.
Perhaps most importantly for Cal – which has now won four straight after losing six straight – the Bears took care of the ball against the Pac-12’s most steal-happy team, turning the ball over just five times on the night against a team that came in averaging 7.1 swipes per game. Cal had turned the ball over 10 times or more in five straight games coming into Saturday. The Bears turned the ball over just once after halftime (and just two after the first three minutes) against the Bruins, who had just one steal on the night.
“We’ve had a lot the past few games,” said Singer, who had one assist, and no turnovers. “I think we’d been averaging 10 or 11. Five turnovers is obviously really good. It’s about guys being sure of just what to do, being aggressive, and, when we have turnovers – especially me – it’s when I’m in-between, kind of not knowing what to do, but now we’re all playing confidently, and aggressively.”
The win is arguably the Bears’ best since defeating then-No. 23 Syracuse, dropping the Bruins to 14-10 overall and 6-5 in league play.
Wallace tallied his fifth double-double of the season, and first since Dec. 19, scoring 10 points and pulling down a team-high 10 rebounds in 37 minutes, and leading all comers with six assists.
“Tyrone is always the option, because he has enough presence to drive the ball if they were in man, but he made the right decision with the ball," Martin said of the last play. "I think Tyrone’s done a great job this game, and even in the Washington game, where he could have forced it and tried to make something happen, he did a great job making the extra pass and really trusting his teammates to do the right thing, and that’s hard for a guy that has the ability to score 20 every time and make plays. I thought he did a tremendous job of really growing in that department.”