LAS VEGAS -- Before California’s 72-61 loss to Stanford on Feb. 21, senior David Kravish’s fiancé Ashton Pohlman dressed down the 6-foot-10 forward for not believing in himself. Kravish went out and averaged 16.7 points and 9.3 rebounds over the next three. But then, Kravish dipped, averaging just 9 points and 4.5 boards over the final two games of the season.
Kravish was far from the meek shadow of himself he was against Arizona and Arizona State, though, as the senior captain took the helm against Washington State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, pouring in a career-high 25 points, hitting 10 of his last 11 shots after going 0-for-6 to start the game, pulling down eight rebounds and going 5-for-5 at the free throw line, as the Bears advanced to a Thursday date with the Wildcats on a 82-59 win over the Cougars.
"Kravish," Washington State coach Ernie Kent said, "was just spectacular, with his play inside, and we didn’t hae a lot of answers there for him … We talked about keeping the ball out of his hands and keeping him from touching it so much, and just didn’t think we did a very good job of that. Once he got rolling and got his confidence, he was very difficult to stop."
As good as Kravish was, though, he was largely invisible in the first half, which meant that Cal’s other starter in the front court -- Dwight Tarwater -- had to pick up the slack.
With Kravish and Tyrone Wallace combining to go 0-for-their-first-9, it was the transfer from Cornell who pulled down four of the Bears’ seven offensive rebounds in the first stanza, helping Cal keep its head above water long enough to make an 11-2 run before halftime.
Though Tarwater finished just 1-for-5 from the field and 0-for-3 from three, he got his own rebounds on two of those three-point misses, with both of those recoveries leading to points.
“The surprise wasn’t so much the hustle points; it was the hustle points that we gave up to them,” Kent said. “I thought there were several opportunities that we could have grabbed rebounds. We were kind of bumbling into each other a little bit. I don’t know if that’s nerves, or whatever, but I didn’t think we got off to a great start to the game. Consequently, they had tremendous confidence after the first eight, nine minutes of the game. It was a different Cal team that we had to deal with.”
Cal forced five turnovers in the first five minutes against the Cougars, and largely held the dangerous DaVanté Lacy in check (only 2 points at halftime on 1-of-3 shooting), but Washington State still got what they needed down low from Josh Hawkinson (6 points on 3-of-5 shooting) and Jordan Railey (10 points on 5-of-7 shooting before the half).
After the Bears (18-14) shot out to a 10-4 lead thanks to those early turnovers – and two clutch offensive boards to keep a possession alive by Tarwater – the Cougars answered back, going on a 14-7 run to take a 16-15 lead with 8:41 left in the half, fueled by three straight buckets from Ike Iroegbu. The sophomore guard – who averaged just over eight points per game during the season – had eight by halftime, shooting 4-of-7 from the field.
Cal, though, went on an 11-2 run to end the half, scoring the final seven points of the stanza, and came out hitting 8 of the first 9 shots it took in the second half (finishing the stanza shooting 68%), as Kravish hit 10 of his next 11 (split evenly between left-shoulder hooks and lay-ups).
“It’s just one of those things, when you play the game for so long, you can’t dwell on something in the middle of a game,” Kravish said of his 0-for-6 start. “You got to look ahead and play defense the next possession to start out, and then just something where you come back and you just stress on what you’ve done, worked on all year and all your life, and you don’t really worry about the misses.”
Kravish’s run helped open up the perimeter for Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews, but so did Wallace, who had a game-high seven assists on the night, to go along with 12 points and seven rebounds.
“Tyrone did a great job getting in the lane,” Mathews said. “When he does that, they really gotta play him for his floater. He does a really good job of finding us. Coaches have taught us during the season to move up and down and make yourself available when he drives, so I credit all our teammates for finding us an open space, and we were able to bury shots today.”
Bird -- along with hitting a dagger three-pointer to end the first half, and then pairing with Mathews to twist the knife a bit harder with back-to-back treys to break Kent's zone midway through the second half – also played lock-down defense on Lacy.
“That was one of the biggest keys for us, defensively, to be able to stop him and keep Hawkinson off the glass,” said Bears head coach Cuonzo Martin. “I thought he accepted that challenge. He embraced it, and he wanted that. He did a great job of staying down. He didn’t get back-doored the whole game. Did a great job setting you up, chasing off screens and challenging his shots. And it’s a tough, tough thing to do against a guy that caliber, the way he moves and shoots the basketball.”
Martin said earlier this week, “Everything goes through Lacy making shots.” On Wednesday, he did not.
Bird allowed the talented guard to score just five points and go 2-of-6 from the field with more than 12 minutes to go, and Cal up by 19.
Lacy was so much of an afterthought midway through the second half, that the Bears let him run an uncontested dunk through the lane with 9:32 left, and it cut the lead to 61-43. At that point, the job was all but done. All but four of Lacy’s points came in garbage time. He finished the game 4-for-11 for 9 points, failing to reach double figures in the final game of his college career.
The Washington State career leader in three-pointers made (surpassing Klay Thompson late during the regular season) was just 0-for-2 from beyond the arc, while the Cougars went 0-for-their-first-7 and 2-for-12 overall from distance, while Cal went 8-for-12, and 4-for-4 in the second half.
Cal will take on Arizona at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday on the Pac-12 Networks in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals. The Wildcats have won by an average of 31 points in their last two meetings with the Bears.
“It’s another team,” Kravish said. “I’ve played Arizona probably eight or nine times in my career. It’s just another opponent you’ve got to attack. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. But, we’ve got to come out and play hard. And whatever it says on the front of their jersey, we’re playing for what’s on the front of ours.”