In its final regular season matchup, the No. 25 Cal men’s basketball team overcame a 10-point deficit to scrape past Arizona State 68-65 in Tempe, Arizona, on Saturday night.
The win secures the Bears a spot among the conference’s top four teams and a bye in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. Winning eight of its last nine games, Cal finishes its season 22-9 and 12-6 in the Pac-12. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils finish the year just less than .500 at 15-16 overall and 5-13 in conference play. Though the Bears’ matchup might not have made or broken their postseason future, a loss to a Pac-12 bottom-dweller would not have sat well with the surging squad now heading to Las Vegas.
At least initially, it didn’t look like Cal was in danger of facing that outcome. While the score remained tight during the game’s opening minutes, Cal began to pull away just before the first media timeout, embarking on an 8-0 run to go up 13-7 with just less than 14 minutes left to play. Part of the Bears’ initial command of the game came partly from the strong play of forward Jaylen Brown, who — having missed much of Cal’s bout with Arizona two days before due to foul trouble — made an early impression on the Sun Devils with an athletic layup in a clogged lane and a fast break to notch his first points of the matchup.
It looked like the Bears would maintain their comfortable distance from the Sun Devils as the half progressed. With an efficient scoring effort in the proceeding minutes which included a pair from threes from guard Jordan Mathews, Cal would go up by as much as eight points with just less than 10 minutes left in the half.
Then, Arizona State finally found its spark.
Beginning with a three-point play from forward Savon Goodman, the Sun Devils started what ultimately became a 19-6 run to close out the half. Struggling against a tougher defensive effort from Sun Devils, the Bears at one point registered four turnovers in just under a four-minute period and would commit nine in total before the buzzer sounded. Meanwhile, Arizona State had points coming from all over the court from players such as guard Tra Holder and forward Eric Jacobsen, as it soared to a 33-28 lead to end the half.
Drumming up a 10-point lead in the opening minutes of the second frame, the Sun Devils continued to dominate coming out of the half. Yet, the Bears would soon find an answer in senior guard Tyrone Wallace. After notching a pair of free throws during Cal’s previous possession, the senior collected a pass from Mathews with just more than 10 minutes left to play, and proceeded to dunk the ball with his off hand over the 6-10 frame of Jacobsen. The basket cut the Sun Devils’ lead to just four at 47-43. After a shot-clock violation from Arizona State on the other end and a Mathews three, the Bears were within one.
Wallace would then give Cal the lead off a pair of free throws with eight minutes and 46 seconds left to play and following a 9-0 run. But he wasn’t done there. Finishing with a game-high 24 points — 19 of which were in the second half — Wallace helped the Bears regain their footing, fighting to a close finish against their final regular season opponent. In the final minute with just two points separating the two teams, Wallace made two free throws to bring the lead to four with 34 seconds left. The Sun Devils would never recover as the Bears took care of business from behind the line.
Dani Jo Coony covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].