It was far from pretty, but it was a third straight conference win. Cal survived a defensive struggle to sneak past Washington State 58-54 Saturday afternoon at Haas Pavilion. The Bears improved to 13-5 overall and 4-2 in Pac-12 competition, good for fourth place in the conference.
“I’ve never been consumed how you win the game, especially in league play, as long as I’m able to say at the end we won the game,” said head coach Cuonzo Martin.
Neither team could find any rhythm offensively, with both squads shooting below 40 percent from the field; Cal shot 39 percent, Washington State just 38 percent. But the Bears turned up the defensive pressure down the stretch, forcing three straight Cougar turnovers in the final minutes. Senior guard Sam Singer preserved the win by drawing a charging foul against Malachi Flynn with 2.7 seconds remaining.
“We practice that pretty much every day,” said Singer. “When a guy gets beat, helping on the weak side, making sure we get out of the restricted zone.”
Ivan Rabb didn’t play his best game, but still recorded 14 points and 12 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season, and his fifth in six conference games. The sophomore standout also limited Washington State leading scorer Josh Hawkinson to just seven points.
“We took it personal, just trying to slow him down,” said Rabb. “He did a good job continuing to fight, but we’re happy we got to slow him down a little bit.”
Jabari Bird had one of the worst games of his Cal career, finishing with just four points on 1-of-7 shooting. But that “one” came at the most important time, a three-pointer in the final minute to extend Cal’s lead to 56-52. It also put Bird over the 1,000 point total for his career, becoming just the 47th Golden Bear to reach that mark.
There are a couple of ways to look at this game from a Cal perspective. At first glance, it seems like a thoroughly unimpressive showing by a 16-point favorite, facing a Washington State team that just lost by 30 at Stanford. On the other hand, it’s encouraging that the Bears found a way to win without playing their best game, often the sign of a good team.
At the end of the season, it will simply show up as a win. And right now every win counts as the Bears try to reach their second straight NCAA Tournament.