By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, Calif. — Washington coach Mike Hopkins may have been the first to grasp what was transpiring when he called a pair of early timeouts to express his exasperation with the indifference his Huskies were displaying on defense.
Ultimately, Hopkins’ timeouts didn’t work.
The Cal Bears, off a favorable start, wavered briefly before halftime, only to recover and hand Pac-12 leading Washington a damaging 76-73 loss that will weigh heavily with the NCAA selection committee. Immediately, Cal’s win ends their 16-game losing streak that had outweighed any positives Wyking Jones’ team had gathered in a trying season.
“We knew we had it in us. We just had to find it,” said Connor Vanover. “It took awhile, but now I think moving forward we will have a clear head. If we can beat Washington, why not anyone else?”
Meanwhile, Washington found little consolation in winning the conference regular season title despite the loss when their closest pursuers, Oregon State and Arizona State, both loss on Thursday.
“We didn’t respect the game,” Crisp said. “We didn’t respect our opponent. We just expected we would come out and win the game. Obviously, you’re never going to win basketball games like that.”
The Bears bothered Washington early with a 2-3 zone that forced the Huskies into some careless turnovers, and quick, fruitless possessions. The Bears took the lead, 19-16, on Paris Austin’s 3-pointer with 11:57 remaining before halftime.
Any scenario seeing the Bears end their lengthy losing streak would have to involve an offensive explosion since the nation’s 313th-ranked defense was unlikely to make a difference at the Pac-12 level. And that formula played out as Darius McNeill, Connor Vanover and Justice Sueing combined for 51 points, and the team shot 55 percent from the floor, and 53 percent from distance. The Bears shared the ball, solving Washington’s frequent use of a 2-3 zone.
“They kept their composure,” Jones said of his Bears’ poise down the stretch. “We turned it over a couple times, late, and they did as well, but the guys just continued to believe, more than anything. Connor continues to shine and kind of give us all a preview of how good he can be.”
And most importantly, the Huskies were limited, failing to produce a run that could create some separation on the scoreboard.
Instead, the Huskies blinked, scoring just four points in the final 5:03 of the game, allowing Cal to protect a paper-thin lead.
With Washington misfiring, the Bears got their final basket from Vanover with 3:26 remaining. Three made free throws broke the tie and gave Cal a lead they would protect.
The Huskies missed three shots in the final minute, including a good look from David Crisp at the buzzer. Crisp led all scorers with 32 points, but only 5 of those 32 came in the final 12 minutes of the game.
“We’ve done about everything wrong in the last couple games where we give up the lead within the last five minutes,” Sueing said. “Going into this game, we were used to having that close, intense matchup. We made it a thing to make sure we stayed together and fight until the end.”
“You got to play with passion and have a chip on our shoulder with every possession and we didn’t have that tonight,” Hopkins said. “We didn’t have basic principles. We were breaking down and you can’t do that with your foundation.”
Cal hosts Washington State on Saturday, their final home game before they close the regular season at Stanford on March 9.