Cal showed why it was the Pac-12 leader by holding off Washington in a game where the Huskies failed to get going until it was too late.
Seemingly playing uphill all evening, the Huskies nearly made it to the top at the end, only to see the game-tying three-pointer fall short with three seconds left, letting Pac-12 Conference-leading California sneak away with a 69-66 triumph Thursday night at Hec Ed.
Aggressors nearly throughout, the Bears started to fade late as Terrence Ross, who led Washington with 15 points, hit a pair of threes, the second cutting the deficit to 68-66 with 10.1 sconds left — the closest Washington came since the opening minutes.
After Justin Cobbs made only one of two free throws at 8.2 seconds, the door was open for a tie. Despite the fact that he had missed all of his eight shots in the game, senior forward Darnell Gant was set up to seek the tie. He had a wide-open look in transition, but the trey clanged away to give the Huskies (4-2, 11-7) only their second home loss of the season.
“It was designed for Gant,” said Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar, who was denied his 300th career win. “The last game we had he hit three 3s. Hes shooting over 40 percent. Just because somebody is having an off-night, if you look at the body of work theyve put forth, you got to take that chance. Hes shooting a good percentage and usually knocks those down.”
The crowd was announced at 9,591, but it was was well short of that in house, owing to the winter snow and ice storm that closed school and made traffic a nightmare. But Cal didn’t seem bothered by the crowd or environment, particularly at the line, where the Bears iced the game by hitting 19 of 21 free throws. The Bears also took advantage of Washington’s shorthandedness — second-leading scorer C.J. Wilcox was out with a stress fracture in his femur — with an 18-3 advantage in points off the bench.
“My biggest gripe tonight is that we kind of repeated our mistakes against Washington State,” Romar said. “We didnt come out with the type of fire — I shouldnt say fire because I thought we played hard — but not with the type of concentration we needed. It picked up more in the second half but against a team like that it wasnt good enough to overcome the deficit.”
The key moment in the game came with seven minutes remaining and the Huskies rallying to trail 55-51. Romar drew a technical foul for complaining about a foul. Replays showed the call was good, and Cal responded by hitting four free throws — two on the technical, two on the personal foul — for a 59-51 lead that was too much to overcome.
The situation was similar to Sunday against WSU when Romar appeared to take a T as a way to inspire his team. Romar didn’t own up then, or Thursday.
“Many have asked if that technical against WSU was intentional,” he said. “We did the same thing here, and it didn’t change a thing.”
Allen Crabbe led Cal with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Aziz N’Diaye had another big game for Washington with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Tony Wroten had 14 points and Abdul Gaddy 12, but Washington ran out of offensive contributors quickly.
“If we have to play this way the rest of the year, it would concern me, absolutely,” Romar said. “But we’ll get C.J. back.”
But probably not in time for the 3 p.m. game Saturday against Stanford, which lost in Pullman 81-69.