Photo by Cal Athletics

Bears Stun Huskies, End Losing Streak

February 28, 2019

At a time when the Cal basketball team was at its lowest ebb, the Bears pulled off the upset of the year, maybe the upset of the 21st Century, Thursday night when they knocked off Pac-12 leader Washington, 76-73 at Haas Pavilion.

The Bears (6-22, 1-15 Pac-12) had lost a school record 16 straight games. The Huskies (22-6, 13-2) were ranked 25th in the country and cruising toward the league championship. And then the Bears turned the conference and the college basketball world on its head. They had to survive some harrowing final minutes, but when David Crisp’s desperation three-pointer clanged off the rim at the buzzer the Bears had the victory.

“I am just so happy for my guys to get a win over a really, really good team,” said coach Wyking Jones afterwards. “When you can say that every single player who played gave us something, it’s a great feeling. We were able to get a win because everybody gave us something.”

Jones has seldom been more accurate. All eight players who took the floor had a hand in the first conference victory since Feb. 3 a year ago. Whether it was Connor Vanover hitting shots or grabbing rebounds, Darius McNeill (19 points) draining threes, Justice Sueing fighting his way to important rebounds, Paris Austin dishing out assists (he totaled 9), Grant Anticevich hitting buckets at key times, Matt Bradley, Juhwan Harris-Dyson, Andre Kelly. They were all important and without the collective efforts, we are probably talking about a 17th straight loss.

This certainly wasn’t easy. The lead the Bears had fought to keep for most of the night seemed in danger as the Huskies mounted a final charge. Sueing stuffed an Austin miss to put the Bears up 71-66 with 5;17 left. But Jaylen Nowell hit a three-pointer and a layup to pull the Huskies even. Vanover put the Bears back up again with a short jumper, but Crisp, who had 21 of his 32 points in the first half, tied it again at 2:18. Those were the Huskies last points..

McNeill hit one of his two free throws for a one-point lead, which no one in the crowd of 6,441 thought was safe.. Sueing made a steal on the Huskies’ next possession and grabbed an offensive rebound after Vanover’s miss. That was negated by a shot clock violation.

The Huskies were denied when Sueing blocked Nowell’s shot at the other end with 35 seconds left.

Twelve seconds later Austin was at the free throw line and calmly hit two to make it a three-point lead. The Huskies had two more chances. Dominic Green missed a three, and Cal had the ball with 12 seconds left. McNeil was quickly fouled, but missed the front end of his one-and-one. Nowell missed a contested three, and after a bit of a scramble, the ball went out of bounds with 1.4 seconds left.

It was initially awarded to the Bears, but after the officials studied the replay they reversed it. Crisp had a not a clear but certainly decent look at his shot. It clanged off the rim and the fans went crazy.

After the traditional handshake with the opponents, the Bear players took a victory lap around the arena, exchanging high fives with the fans who were as surprised as they were delighted.

“We just wanted to stay together,” said Austin. “Once we got the lead with about three minutes left we wanted to make sure we defended.”

The Bears not only defended for the whole game, they scored. They shot 55.6 percent (30-for-54) from the floor and had a season-high 22 assists.

“I just have got to give it to my teammates,” Austin said. “We did a good job of moving the ball, but they were making shots.”

As they have done so often the Bears played a terrific first half leading by as many as eight. The advantage was cut to a single digit at halftime. When the Huskies took a three-point lead early in the second half, memories of the weekend in Arizona where the Bears were strong in the first half but wilted in the second, were in the minds of Cal fans. This time the Bears didn’t wilt. McNeill, hit a three to tie at 54 and when Austin scored on a lay-up the Bears were on top and never trailed again.

“The last two days in practice the guys have been like extra affectionate with each other,” Jones said. “Our huddles have been tighter than they’ve ever been. Just a ton of high fives, just a ton of them loving each other to the point where my assistants are coming up to me and going, ‘What is going on? What’s in the air?’ That gave me a little bit of an indication that they would come out and play well tonight. So my challenge to them before the game was ‘Let’s hunt plays not shots. Let’s hunt to make the right play. Whether it’s for yourself to get a shot, or for somebody else to make a shot.’ And they did that.”

The victory might at least temporarily quiet the calls for Jones to be fired, which have been oh-so-audible in recent days. The players showed their affection for their coach by giving him a shower, coat, tie, shoes and all.

“I’m soaking wet,” he said. “It was a great atmosphere in there (the locker room). Like I said, i am so happy for the guys. We have gone through this losing streak and they have all stayed positive. They have all continued to work and scratch and claw. They’ve gotten close so many times.”

After a day off the Bears host the Washington State Cougars in their home finale Saturday afternoon.

“It will be business as usual at practice tomorrow,” Austin said. “We have a game to play Saturday.”

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