Sam Singer sets a career high with eight assists as Cal downs Arizona State 75-70

BERKELEY -- In his first collegiate start, Sam Singer turns a warbling Cal offense into one of the three tenors, as the Bears escape with a narrow win over Arizona State.

BERKELEY – On a night where he set a career-high for assists in his first collegaite start, it was fitting that California junior point guard Sam Singer -- playing in place of an injured Tyrone Wallace -- got the final steal with 5.7 seconds left to ice a 75-70 win over visiting Arizona State, breaking a three-game Bears losing streak.

"I've learned a lot from guarding him the last two years," Singer said of Wallace. "I'm trying to take pieces of his game and put them into mine. We're not the same player, but if I can take parts of his game and put them into mine, I think I'll be alright." Arizona State had come back from as many as 14 points to tie the game at 65-65 with just over two minutes left, but, with four fouls, Bears freshman Ivan Rabb came up with two gutsy blocks -- one of 6-foot-10, 220-pound Eric Jacobsen at 1:04, and the other of Kodi Justice with 44 seconds left, the second leading to a run-out lay-up by freshman Jaylen Brown, bringing the Haas Pavilion crowd of 9,096 to its feet.

"That's what we're down there for: Me, Kam and King," Rabb said of his fellow big men, Kingsley Okoroh and Kameron Rooks. Okoroh played 20 minutes and added four blocks, including one preceding Rabb's pair.

"It says that we're tired of losing," Rabb said of the end of Cal's losing streak. "That game could easily have gotten away from us, but we battled at the end on defense. That's how you win games: Defense."

As quickly as the crowd found its voice, though, after those Rabb rejections, so did Gerry Blakes find his three-point stroke, hitting a corner three with 35 seconds left to bring Arizona State (11-8, 1-5 in Pac-12) back to within two. 

But, Cal (13-6, 3-3) held strong, going 6-of-6 at the free throw line over the final 28 seconds. The Bears went 20-of-29 at the charity stripe, in a game where there were a total of 47 fouls called.

"We knew it was going to be a physical tough game, especially when Savon Goodman comes on the floor, but I thought our guys did a good job from start to finish, especially without Tyrone Wallace," head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "We knew it would be tough, but a lot of credit to Sam Singer for facilitating the offense, and an exceptional job of guarding Tra Holder."

Martin called Holder -- who went 2-of-11 -- one of the better guards in the league, but he was held to just nine points and five assists -- none in the first half, by Singer.

"It was really hard to get into a flow," Martin said of the fouls. "You really can't argue the call, but I guess it's a foul if they make a call, but it's extremely hard. It's hard for an official to officiate the game, because you can call a foul in the post every possession down the floor, if you call it the way it's supposed to be called."

The Bears came away with a skin-of-their-teeth win over the visiting Sun Devils, ending a three-game losing streak as Rabb set a career high with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and a 4-of-6 performance at the free throw line down the stretch. He played 39 minutes, and added eight rebounds, six assists and three blocks.

Rabb, though, wouldn't have been able to do what he did were it not for Cal's new starting point guard.

There was energy, there was life and there was passing – as Cal took the floor for the first time in three years without Wallace, the Bears turned to Singer, and the Miami native didn’t disappoint.

"I've been a point guard my whole life, and I felt really comfortable out there," Singer said. "It makes it easy when I have guys like Ivan, Jordan [Mathews] and Jabari [Bird]. I felt great and confident."

Singer and Brown teamed up on a mid-court strip and run-out tomahawk dunk by the five-star freshman to open the proceedings, sending the bench and the Haas Pavilion crowd into a frenzy.

Singer may have been introduced first out of the gate, but he certainly didn’t concern himself with taking care of No. 1. Instead, he dished out a career-high eight assists in the first half alone. Singer, though, didn't get any assists after halftime, as Arizona State stopped hedging hard on ball screens and allowing bigs like Rabb to turn the corner and get inside.

"I'm sure he had a whole lot of hockey assists tonight," Rabb said, referring to Singer's 0 helpers in the second, but his wealth of secondary passes that led to baskets.

"Sam was exhausted after 35 minutes, but we needed him on the floor," Martin said.

Even without Singer getting an assist after the break, his presence allowed the ball to move, and, on the game, the Bears tallied 17 assists on 24 field goals.

The Sun Devils – the worst-shooting team in the Pac-12 -- hit just two of their first 10 field goal attempts, but were still within striking distance of the Bears, down by just four points midway through the first half.

Then, after a two-minute rest, Singer returned to the game, and racked up five assists in the next 2:23, including four on Cal’s next five field goals.

"That's the best we've shot all season," Martin said of that stretch. "When you have big guys make lay-ups -- and Ivan can score the ball and do a variety of things -- you have to keep those guys engaged, and the opposing team understands that they're a threat. When you don't utilize your bigs, in the last two minutes of the game it becomes tougher. Our guards did a good job of pressuring the defense and going downhill."

Singer’s crowning dish came after picking up a loose ball from Justice, pushing the ball up and then swinging a nifty pass around Jacobsen to Rabb for a lay-up high off the glass to make it 24-18, with 8:24 to go.

When the Sun Devils tried to zone, a three by Brown snapped them out of it. The biggest beneficiary of Singer’s generosity, though, wasn’t Brown, but Cal’s other freshman – Rabb. The Bishop O’Dowd alum had 12 points in the first half, operating off both the right and left block and showing a renewed vigor in challenging Jacobsen. Rabb went 6-for-8 in the first stanza, nearly equaling the nine shots he’s taken in the last two games, combined.

In that same vein, Singer had more assists in the first half than the Sun Devils, who shot a woeful 9-of-26.

Cal led by as many as 11 before the break, but finished the first half up 10, as Singer had eight assists to two turnovers, with two rebounds, and integral parts in two steals – including one on Arizona State’s first possession that led to the Brown jam.

Singer – more of a true point guard than Wallace – had the offense moving smoothly, as the Bears had 12 assists on their first 15 baskets, though the eight turnovers before halftime were a concern, as things did get sloppy at times.

Things got sloppy early in the second half, when, poised to break the game open, up 47-34, the Bears turned the ball over twice, and an ill-advised three by Mathews fell off-the-mark.

"It's an issue we need to get corrected," Singer said of Cal's 14 turnovers. "We can't give up 15-plus extra attempts."

"Those turnovers make it hard for me to sleep, but I think we had only four bad turnovers tonight; nothing to make my hair grow, so not too bad," Martin said.

A quick Rabb bucket off the right block, and a long outlet pass from Singer to Brown – who missed the reverse, but split two free throws – got the Bears up by 12 with 14:50 to go.

Rabb then took Goodman -- who finished 6-of-9 from the floor with an ASU-best seven boards -- off the block, fading out to the mid-post, and then, while falling down, sank a jumper to put Cal up 52-40 and give Rabb 16 points.

Over the first eight minutes of the second half, Singer didn’t have any assists, but he did have five points and two rebounds, as the rest of the Bears got in on the assist game, with four of Cal’s first five field goals after the break being tagged with helpers, including two from Brown, who’d gone five games without an assist earlier in the season. Brown finished with 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and went 6-of-8 at the free throw line, with one block and one steal.

Thanks to improved dribble penetration by Goodman in the second half, though, with 7:51 left, the Bears found themselves up by just four.

Having not scored a basket in 3:06, as the Sun Devils hit 4-of-7 shots, Cal allowed Holder to recover an Okoroh block, dribble inside, then bounce a pass under a leaping Okoroh to Goodman for a bucket.

Arizona State continued to creep closer and closer, and with just over four minutes to go, the Sun Devils down by one after a running jumper at the left elbow by Holder.

Singer brough the ball up, and, after showing some frustration with the way his teammates were working the actions in the half court, found a slashing Bird for a spot-up jumper from the Cal logo on the right wing, to give Cal a bit of breathing room, at 64-61, with 4:02 to go, setting the stage for the wild home stretch.

Up Next

The Bears next host Arizona on Saturday, at 6:30 p.m.

"They're the team to beat," Martin said. "When you ahve that experience -- Kaleb Tarczewski, a fourth year guy, and two transfers, fifth-year guys -- when you have that level of experience, that means you're battle-tested at some level. It's playing as hard as we can play, and executing our game plan. They're a really good team, but I haven't broken them down and game planned. They're very talented. We're ready to rumble. There's 50 tickets left, so you've got to buy those up quick."

The Wildcats beat Stanford 71-57 at Maples Pavilion on Thursday night, after the Cardinal held a one-point lead with 14:19 to go. Top Stories