Holiday Heart-Stopper: Austin’s game-winner carries Bears past Cal Poly, 67-66

By Morris Phillips

When you win, everybody feels great.

But when it requires a last-second, game-winner to avoid a distasteful measure of embarrassment, almost nobody feels great immediately, and some don’t feel settled for as many as 48 hours.

Paris Austin’s free-throw line jump shot with three seconds remaining delivered the first feeling without erasing the second, in the Cal Bears’ 67-66 win over Cal Poly.

“We are a really good shooting team and shots didn’t fall tonight,” coach Wyking Jones said. “I am very happy with my team, my young team finding a way to get a win. At the end of the day, that’s what’s most important. I see them growing, I don’t know if we win that game last year. Happy that Paris hit the shot, it gives him a lot of confidence. He’s been doing everything that we’ve asked of him.”

The Mustangs of San Luis Obispo and the Big West had done little of note in eight games coming in, but they mustered their biggest effort to date at Haas Pavilion on Saturday night.

After seeing Cal wipe out a second-half deficit with a 10-0 run, the Mustangs hitched their fortunes to Donovan Fields, who scored 26 points and put Cal Poly up 66-65 with 16 seconds remaining.

At that point, the Bears were experiencing a star-crossed, second half in which they shot 61 percent from the field, but saw their 57-52 lead wiped out by a Cal Poly 7-0 run that concluded with 3:22 remaining and the Mustangs up 62-60.

But somehow Cal would survive by subsisting on two made baskets over the final five minutes of the game, both from Austin in the final minute. Not the most satisfying way to beat an opponent picked seventh (of nine) in the Big West, but that conclusion played smaller once Austin confidently delivered the conclusion.

“I crossed (Crowe) over, he bit on the move and I pulled up and made the shot,” Austin said. “It felt good. I knew right away.”

The small guys, Austin and Fields, provided the game’s most focused play, as the Oakland native scored all 10 of his points after halftime. Fields, Cal Poly’s 5’10” point guard, led all scorers with 19 of his 26 points after the break.

Connor Vanover again started at center for the Bears, and scored seven points in the game’s initial minutes. But the seven-footer wouldn’t score again, and then departed early in the second half with a bloody nose and dizziness suffered in a battle for a loose ball.

Grant Anticevich, the effective frontcourt reserve in the win over San Diego State, missed both of his shot attempts in 18 minutes of floor time. Justice Sueing (15), Darius McNeill (10) and Matt Bradley (11) joined Austin in Cal’s balanced scoring.

The Bears travel to Fresno State on Wednesday to face the Bulldogs of the Mountain West. Game time at 7:00 pm PT.

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