Allen Crabbe sliced down the lane, contorting himself to lay in a soft bucket and give the Cal men’s basketball team its first lead of the second half.
Less than a minute later, fellow Bears guard Justin Cobbs spied Crabbe streaking down the weak side and lobbed up an alley-oop pass. But San Diego State guard Chase Tapley saw the potential play, jumped the lane and charged down the court for a go-ahead jumper.
Although the Cal stayed close over the remaining 5:50, the Aztecs never lost the lead again. Tapley finished with a game-high 25 points, and Crabbe with 23 — a margin nearly as close as San Diego State’s 64-63 win.
“Today, we found a way to make one extra play, one more play and be euphoric as we raced to the locker room,” said SDSU head coach Steve Fisher.
Viejas Arena and its sellout crowd of 12,000 rocked back and forth, with the two teams neck and neck for almost the entire 40 minutes. The Bears (6-2) jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first half, and the Aztecs closed it on an 8-0 run, entering halftime with a 33-25 lead.
Cal made up the deficit quickly out of the break, but San Diego State (8-2) countered every gain. The Bears often missed close layups after absorbing contact, and made only 11-of-18 free throws. The Aztecs sank 9-of-10 free throws over the last 2:21.
On San Diego State’s final offensive possession, the visitors forced Aztec forward Garrett Green, one of the team’s poorest shooters, to take an open look from outside. But Cal, trailing by two, couldn’t secure the defensive rebound and sent guard Jamaal Franklin to the line for two free points.
Crabbe drained a long three with two seconds left, but the Bears didn’t foul to stop the clock.
“We made mistakes that ended up costing us,” said head coach Mike Montgomery. “We have to learn. This was a really competitive environment. It was a tough crowd. We really had a great opportunity late, we really did.”
The Bears played their first game without starting forward Richard Solomon, suspended indefinitely on Friday for unspecified conduct violations and did not travel with the team. He is averaging 6.0 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds.
His absence forced a relatively shallow squad to move Cobbs off the bench for a four-guard lineup. Without Solomon, forward Harper Kamp was the only starter who measured above 6-foot-6.
“We think losing Richard takes our rebounding force away and shot blocking, but that’s not the reason we lost,” Cobbs said.” It’s still on us. Richard is an important part of our team, but we still should have come out and done what we needed to do to get the win.”
True freshman David Kravish blocked two shots and grabbed six rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench, but fouled out with 1:06 left in the game. He was one of only six Bears to log double-digit minutes.