BERKELEY -- The first game between California and Saint Mary's in 11 years had enough of an intriguing storyline all on its own -- Gaels coach Randy Bennett was vocal about what a shame it had been to not face the Bears in so long -- but consider that both teams' leading scorers coming into the game went a combined 3-for-18, things got even more interesting: Five-lead-changes-in-the-final-3:30-of-the-game interesting.
After Jabari Bird sunk a three-pointer to tie the game at 55-55, a free throw by Jaylen Brown brought the Bears ahead, only for a Dane Pineau to answer with a bucket. Brown responded with a lay-up to give Cal a 58-57 lead, and then Saint Mary's guard Joe Rahon put in a lay-up of his own to give the Gaels an edge.
A key block by Ivan Rabb and a quick time out with 19.4 seconds left, though, gave Cal the edge it needed, as out of the break, Bird hit a spot-up three with 15.2 seconds left from the right corner to give the Bears a 61-59 lead. Even an ill-advised foul by Tyrone Wallace at mid-court just 10 seconds later couldn't sink Cal, as Brown hauled in a rebound off the missed Rahon free throw, and drew a foul, icing both free throws to keep the Bears undefeated at home, 63-59.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1601727-jabari-bird-ready-... "I've been seeing this man hit shots like that since I was in seventh, eighth grade," Rabb said of Bird's shot. "I was glad we got the ball in his hands, and I knew it was going in."
"It felt good. I knew it was going in," Bird said. "I wouldn't have shot it if I didn't think it was going in."
Head coach Cuonzo Martin didn't reveal too much about what was talked about when he called Cal's full time out going into that play, but Bird gave credit to Wallace.
"We didn't necessarily talk about it in the huddle, but the way Saint Mary's was playing the game, they were sagging in, really trying to stop Tyrone from driving," Bird said. "I had to wait for my turn, I had my feet set and Tyrone made a great play, got me the ball and I knocked the shot down."
"We got a special situation that we practice all the time," Martin said. "It's a read. I don't want to be specific on the exact thing, but they read it perfectly. It's reads. You know if you need a three -- and we didn't necessarily need a three because of the score, but when it happens, you take what they give you, and I thought they did a great job. In most cases, teams will push up on Tyrone, because their assignment on defense, on ball screens, it really worked perfectly, because now, he can get the ball and he can make the play, and Jabari's man collapsed in, he makes the pitch, just a great read."
Wallace -- who averaged 18.4 points per game coming in -- went just 2-for-12 from the field, while Gaels leading scorer, Emmett Naar, went just 1-for-6, scoring three points (hitting his only three-pointer, after going 29:25 without scoring).
Instead, the Bears relied on Bird -- who went 5-of-8 from the field and 3-of-6 from three for 13 points -- and Rabb.
Bird had been heating up over the last four games, going 17-for-34 from the field heading into Saturday's contest, and even with his shooting on the outside, it was Rabb down low that laid the foundation. In fact, Rabb noted, had Bird not hit that three, he did indeed have position down low to get the put-back, and add to Cal's 11 second-chance points on the night.
Rabb, the 6-foot-10 first-year out of Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd, tallied his fourth career double-double, with a career-high 13 shots (he hit seven of them) and 11 rebounds to go with 15 points and four blocks.
"This is great for Bay Area Basketball," Rabb said. "You could see the fan support tonight. Both teams had a lot of fans. People were just excited. They wanted to see a great game, and we gave them a thriller tonight."
In the first half alone, Rabb went 4-of-9 from the floor, and pulled down eight rebounds, including three on the offensive glass.
In fact, in the first half, the Bears held a massive 19-13 rebounding advantage, and led 37-26 at the break, thanks to five turnovers by the usually ball-strong Gaels and a 5-of-9 shooting mark from beyond the three-point arc, headed by a 3-for-3 start from Jordan Mathews.
In fact, Mathews went 5-for-5 from the floor in the first half, and while he trailed off a bit in the second -- going 0-for-3 from the field -- he was key in defending Naar, who came into the game leading the NCAA in three-point percentage (64.0%) and averaging 16.5 points per game.
"You have to give Jordan Mathews a lot of credit," Martin said. "I told Jordan, 'This guy's the best in the country,' and every chance he had to defend him, he wanted to defend him."
Naar's first field goal, though, came as part of a 12-0 run by the Gaels in the second half, as the Bears scored just once in their first eight possessions and Saint Mary's built up a 49-44 lead with 10:11 to go. Only a lay-up by Rabb broke the spell. Another lay-up by Rabb and a put-back dunk by Bird with 7:01 to go tied the game at 50-50.
After that 12-0 run by the Gaels, Rabb and Bird combined to score Cal's next 11 points to keep things tied up with 3:30 to go.
"They're a Tournament-caliber team," Bird said. "For them to come into our house like that, being down by 12 and battling, that shows what kind of a team they are."
The rebounding advantage disappeared in the second, as the Gaels out-boarded the Bears 24-12, and found their three-point stroke. But, down the stretch, Cal held firm, and perhaps most crucially, only turned the ball over 10 times, as opposed to the 19 the Bears tallied against Incarnate Word earlier this week.
"We took care of the ball a lot better and we played better defense," Rabb said.
That certainly showed, as the Bears were disciplined on the Gaels' trademark throw-back plays off of drives inside, closing out on three-point shooters and not over-helping. Cal held 45.3%-three-point-shooting Saint Mary's to just 2-of-6 in the first half, though they hit 6-of-10 in the second. While the three-point shooting did improve for Saint Mary's, they shot just 39.4% from the field in the second half.
Bears Hold Team Meeting
After a too-close win this week over Incarnate Word, the Bears players called a players-only meeting, late at night, at Haas Pavilion.
"We came together, had a meeting, and we discussed some of the stuff that was going on," Rabb said. "We discussed how we want the season to end. As you can tell tonight, we came out with more energy, we played as a team."
After the players-only meeting on Wednesday, the Bears met with coaches on Thursday.
Who called the meeting?
"We all called it," Bird said.
"We knew, we knew we had to talk," Rabb added.
"The vibe," Bird continued, "you could see. We didn't play like we wanted to last game. We knew we needed to talk about something, get something fixed. That's scary if only one guy sees it. It was pretty obvious that we weren't clicking on all cylinders, and we need to be, for the whole team to come together. That was good to see, and we made some improvements tonight, and we look to continue to do that."
Martin said that he'd been a part of teams that had team meetings, and said that he didn't want to know what they were talking about, as long as it's genuine.
"After that, it's none of my business," he said. "Like I said to our guys before, up until tonight, and I think the last four games, we won and didn't play well. We won because we were talented enough, but not that we played well. We didn't flow offensively. We didn't share the ball. The chemistry wasn't at a high level. Like I told the guys, and I said it before we went to Australia: 'This team won't be about talent. In most cases, talent is not enough.' You have to be together, you have to be on the same page and have a passion for one another, to win games and win at a high level. We showed that tonight. Still plenty of work to do, but they showed it the way they defended. I think this is the first time, all season, that we've defended. No disrespect to the previous eight, nine teams we've played, but this is the best team we've played, on both ends of the floor. You have to work on both ends, and we showed it, defensively."