"I remember when their coach called a time out when it was a 2-point game," freshman forward Ryan Anderson said after the game. "The crowd was getting into it. They were shocked. In previous games, they have a huge run, and take over, but today, even though they had a run, our energy was a lot more than theirs in the second half. Their heads were down."
In the end, the Trojans prevailed anyway, 76-73, winning the game at the free-throw line, figuratively and literally. Daniel Hackett's two charity tosses with 1:03 left gave the Trojans a 73-71 lead. An unbelievable no-look over-the-shoulder pass by Jerome Randle as he went out of bounds over the baseline to a waiting Omar Wilkes led to a tying hoop at 73-all with 46 ticks left on the clock, but Hackett's basket and Nick Young's free throw, all in the final 16 seconds, sealed the victory for Coach Tim Floyd's Trojans.
As depleted as the Bears were entering the game (post men Jordan Wilkes and DeVon Hardin, swing man Eric Vierneisel and guard Nikola Knezevic all in street clothes), things only got worse. Senior guard Ayinde Ubaka, severely weakened from an intestinal ailment all week, was held scoreless on Thursday by UCLA, and played only eight minutes in the second half of this game, again due to dehydration and cramping.
"Ayinde was pretty severely dehydrated because of the intestinal flu," said coach Ben Braun. "He had to get an IV. I was surprised he came back, tried it once, cramped up, tried again, cramped up again, then he was out a long time before he came back. It tells you something about his heart; he wanted to be out there with him team, not on the sideline. He lost a lot over the last two days. He was running on empty."
When forward Theo Robertson's knee tendonitis began to flare up, Braun had only one upper classman on his bench to turn to. Former walk-on Alex Pribble showed why Braun rewarded him with a scholarship last year, contributing a key basket and a career-high four steals while leading the 17-point comeback.
|AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Patrick Christopher on defense
"That's Alex for you," explained Anderson. "Every practice he works hard, every time he comes on the floor, it's a spark of energy. He's an amazingly tough player. Every team needs a guy like Alex Pribble. He many not be our biggest player, but he crashes the boards harder than anybody; he dives on the floor."
Pribble, in the post-game press meeting for only the second time in his Cal career, was not bashful in explaining his role. "I grew up as a bench player, trying to inspire guys from the bench - 'You gotta believe,' or 'It's not over'. Sometimes when the other guys hit big shots, you get your head down a little, but you've got to stay in it."
As for his contribution to the stirring charge, he said, "The main thing I try to do is raise the energy level. Try to get to loose balls, rebounds. Playing hard is a huge part of the game. It's unfortunate we had to wait so long to play hard enough."
Cal was perfect from the free throw line, making all eight attempts. The key was that SC stayed out of foul trouble in the second half, and the Golden Bears never went to the line after intermission. SC shot 76.5% themselves, converting 13 of 17 free throw attempts. Additionally, Cal was the first team to shoot better than 50% from the floor against the Trojans.
"You shoot 52% against this team, you should win," Braun said. "It's one of those things - we shoot over 50 for the game, 100 from the line, just under half our 3's, it's just a tough thing. We played a very tough team, USC. Young and (guard Gabe) Pruitt both came back and hit some tough shots to give their team that cushion."
SC launched a lightning run with 6:15 left in the first half, turning a 22-20 Cal lead into a 31-22 deficit with an 11-0 burst in just over two minutes of play. Pruitt started the damage with a three-ball, then Lodrick Stewart did the remaining damage, hitting a quick layup after a steal on the inbounds pass, then burying a pair of treys in the next two minutes.
|AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
A pair of Ayinde Ubaka free throws broke the run, and stabilized the deficit at 7. Ryan Anderson finally broke into the scoring column with a pair of free throws at the 38-second mark, and Ubaka drained a running layup with two-tenths of a second showing on the clock to close it to 37-30 at the half.
Ubaka never scored again. He played only eight minutes in the second half and did not even take a shot.
Young, the Trojans' leading scorer on the season (17.0 ppg) had only two at the break on a pair of free throws in the final ten seconds of the half. He scored his season's average of 17 after the break. SC's big gun in the first half was Stewart, who had 18 first-half points, well above his season average of 13.6
"We made some adjustments on Stewart at the half," said Braun. "From 18 points to three, I think we did do a better job. We had foul trouble, we were fatigued, and we had to play some zone. They hit some shots; we lost a man in the corner once or twice. We bought some time. Ryan didn't pick up his third foul, that was crucial."
As the game wound down to its final moments, Cal had no time-outs at its disposal, but SC coach Floyd obligingly called one each time the Bears might have wanted to. After Wilkes tied the game, the Bears needed a defensive stop. Trojan guard Daniel Hackett had other ideas, and found a clear lane to the basket for a critical layup with 16 seconds left.
Braun virtually diagrammed the play to the media after the game. "We didn't close down the lane," the Cal coach said. "We were trying to lock down on their shooters, and we didn't get the proper help-side position. Hackett got to the rim, which he shouldn't have. That's what he does. It was a big play for their team."
Cal had one last shot at it, and Ryan Anderson, their leading scorer on the day with 19 points, took a long 3-point shot with nine seconds left.
"I had hit a couple before that," Anderson recalled. "I was open, the clock was running down. He was coming out on me, I double-clutched in the air. I don't regret taking it. We were down 17 with 13 minutes left, we had a huge comeback. I'm doing whatever I can to help my team win."
The ball bounced high off the iron, and Young, the game's leading rebounder with seven, sealed off the one that won the game. Fouled, he converted one of the two free throws to produce the game's final margin.
|AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Daniel Hackett vs, Jerome Randle
Asked if losing a close game like this was harder than it might have been without the comeback, Pribble had this to say: "Tougher in the sense that in a close game, you see the glimmer of hope, it's within your grasp.At the start of the year, we thought we were one of the deepest teams in the Pac-10, if not the country. We have confidence in every person on this team. We try not to make excuses. People play hard, and that's what we do. We played 3 ranked teams the last three games, and there were stretches where anyone could have said we were the best team on the court."
Braun's recap: "We did good things in the second half, but it's frustrating; we want to come away with the win."
Next up is a resurgent Stanford team, at Haas on Saturday for a 6:30 p.m. start that will be televised on FSN.
- Cal was down to seven true scholarship players, plus former walk-on Alex Pribble, granted a scholarship last year. Of the six, three are freshmen and one a sophomore.
- After out-rebounding three consecutive opponents, Cal was soundly thrashed on the boards by UCLA on Thursday, 36-25.
- USC has out-rebounded their opponent just three times in eight Pac-10 contests, including a 24-22 edge Saturday. Still, they average 3.5 rpg more than Cal.
- Ryan Anderson the only freshman in the Pac-10 in the top 10 in two categories (scoring and rebounding)
- SC had held opponents to 35.9% from the field this season; Cal was shooting 44.9% on the season entering Saturday's game.
- Cal's assist/turnover ratio is #3 in the conference (1.20); SC is last at 0.76. On Saturday, each team had 17 assists, and SC turned the ball over 15 times to Cal's 14.
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