Going into Thursday’s Thanksgiving match-up between undefeated No. 13 California and unranked San Diego State, the Aztecs had not lost in 148 straight games where they led with 5:00 left in the game. After Bears freshman Ivan Rabb scored 12 points and pulled down five rebounds in the first 12 minutes, and Cal led by eight points at the break, and it looked like they had a date with West Virginia on Friday night in the books.
Then, in the second half, the Bears went ice cold, going 6-for-21 through 18 minutes, and wilting under the second-half physicality, cuts and cross screens set up for Skylar Spencer, as San Diego State went on a 25-3 run, interrupted only by a Jordan Mathews three-pointer, to come away with a 72-58 win at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
Spencer finished the game with a team-high 15 points on 5-of-5 shooting and 5-of-8 from the free-throw line, after coming into the game having scored nine points in his first four games combined. 10 of his points were scored in the second half.
Winston Shepard – who had played in three of San Diego State’s five games, went 6-of-10 from the field, and 1-for-1 from three to score 15 points, with all of those coming after halftime. He took just one shot before the break.
Spencer got the ball off the cross cut inside four times in the second half, with no adjustment on the part of the Bears. Cal had, though, led by 15, 2:36 into the second half, with Jaylen Brown scoring the first five points off the rip, but soon, things began to turn, as the Aztecs hit their next three shots, and nine of their next 15, as the Bears went 0-for-8 with five of their 15 turnovers on the night as San Diego State started the turnaround over a 7:36 span.
It was the second-largest second-half deficit ever overcome by San Diego State in head coach Steve Fisher’s tenure.
It was the Aztecs who couldn’t hit wood if they fell on the court in the first half, shooting a dismal 28.1% from the field, with Spencer scoring five points and tallying just one rebound. Cal had out-scored San Diego State 20-12 in the paint, and had 12 points off of turnovers to the Aztecs’ three.
But, the problems were there, lurking under the surface. Cal had 12 team fouls in the first half, with Rabb and Brown each picking up two. Rabb was performing well in the low post, but Mathews was just 2-of-7 shooting, and after an opening three-pointer, missed his next two from beyond the arc, and couldn’t get many open looks from three-point land. Brown looked out of control and even a bit reckless at times, and was 0-for-2 from the field in the first half.
In the second half, things got worse for Brown, as he was rejected by the rim on a dunk attempt, and then barely hit the front of the rim on the ensuing free throw.
Rabb and Brown both picked up their fourth fouls by less than seven minutes left, giving the Bears no firepower to try to come back.
Rabb fouled out with 14.3 seconds left with 18 points and nine rebounds, as SDSU went on a 42-13 run to end the game. Point guard Tyrone Wallace finished with 16 points and four fouls of his own, and went 0-for-2 from the free-throw line, as the Bears went 11-of-19 from the charity stripe as a team. Coupled with the 15 turnovers, it was a return to the same woes that Cal was able to overcome, thanks to the talent gap, during a win over East Carolina.
The Bears (4-1) will now face Richmond (3-2) at 5 p.m. on Friday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.