The good news is that California got their first ever Pac-12 tournament victory in Las Vegas by blowing out Washington State 84-59 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Wednesday afternoon. Depending on your outlook, the bad news is that Cal will now face regular season champ Arizona on Thursday. In case you have wiped that unpleasantness from your memory, the Wildcats annihilated Cal 99-60 in Tucson just last week.
Senior David Kravish led the way with a career high 25 points, adding eight rebounds and three blocked shots. Kravish struggled early, missing his first six shots, but then made 10 of his next 11 attempts. Commenting on his ragged beginning, Kravish said, “It's just one of those things, you play the game for so long, you can't dwell on something in the middle of a game.”
Jordan Mathews added 19 points, and Tyrone Wallace chipped in with 12 points and had 7 assists and 7 boards.
“I thought our guys did great job of setting the tone early, playing with passion on both ends of the floor,” said Coach Cuonzo Martin. “We were moving, we were cutting, we were patient. We established David in the post. I thought that set the tone for us offensively.”
The unsung hero was Jabari Bird. Bird scored just 9 points on three of three from outside the arc, but his major contribution was as the primary defender on Cougar leading scorer DaVonte Lacy. Lacy came in averaging 17.2 ppg, but was held to just 9 by Bird and Cal's team defensive scheme.
Bird said, “I just tried to stay in his numbers and make it tough for him. He makes them a dangerous team, a guy who can score at will like that. To take him out of the game and kind of slow their offense down a little bit was key for us.”
Martin also commented on Bird's effort in the post-game press conference. “It was one of the biggest keys for us defensively, to be able to stop him (Lacy),” said Martin. “I thought he (Bird) accepted that challenge, he embraced it, he wanted that. He did a great job of chasing him off screens, challenging his shots.”
The Cougars came into the game ranked 12th in defensive efficiency in the Pac-12 in conference games, and they showed why. Cal torched WSU in the second half, making 17 of their 25 attempts (68%).
For the game, Cal made an impressive 8 of 12 from distance, and held the Cougars to 2 of 12. Washington State did not make a three until the game was well in hand.
Cal led 30-26 with blank remaining in the first half, when they went on a 7-0 run to take control of the game. The Cougars didn't score in the final 2:41 of the half. The Bears made 9 of their last 10 shots in the opening half, with Kravish doing much of the damage.
In a play that was a microcosm of the game, Sam Singer missed the front end of a one and one with 9.2 seconds left, but Kravish secured the rebound and passed it back out. Bird was unguarded, and buried a trey from up top to make it 37-26 Cal at the break.
The Bears came out of the locker room and made their first five shots to quickly build the lead to 17 points. In a 12-minute stretch spanning the intermission, Cal made 14 of 15 shots. Kravish had six of those 14 makes. Thanks to their efficiency on offense, the Bears were able to maintain the lead in double figures until the final buzzer. The 25-point final margin was their largest advantage of the game.
Looking ahead to Arizona on Thursday, Martin said, “I don't know if it's daunting. You're playing against an opponent in your league. It's a neutral court game. Prepare yourself to win the ball game.”
Kravish added, “And whatever it says on the front of their jersey, we're playing for what's on the front of ours.”
Tip time is just after noon on Thursday.
- Cal improved to 18-14 on the season. The Cougars finished at 13-18.
- Cal's margin of victory was their largest since they defeated Kennesaw State in November, 93-59.
- Cal won the rebound battle 37-22. The 22 boards were a season low for WSU.
- The attendance in the Arena for the first game was not announced, but it was not a large crowd.