Make that seven in a row.
Defense powered the Cal men’s basketball team to another win on Saturday afternoon, this time a 62-46 triumph over Colorado at Haas Pavilion.
With their seventh-straight victory, and ninth in their last 10 games, the Bears (20-9, 12-5 in the Pac-12) have secured at least a top-four finish in the conference and, with it, a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament.
“The way we’ve been playing, with everyone playing together,” said Tyrone Wallace, “I definitely don’t see any reason why we can’t (win the title).”
In what has become a common theme during the last month and a half, Cal turned to its stifling defense to take down the Buffaloes (19-9, 9-7). Colorado shot just 25.8 percent from the field, the fourth consecutive Cal opponent to shoot under 35 percent.
The Buffaloes’ 20 offensive rebounds kept them in the game.
The Bears successfully forced Colorado out to the perimeter. Its starting backcourt of Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie combined to shoot a ghastly 4-for-26. The Buffaloes tallied only a dozen points in the paint and launched 21 3-point attempts.
“Obviously, defense is not the glamorous part,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery. “It’s not the sexy part, but they’ve kind of accepted that.”
Cal’s offense was not exactly glamorous either. Pac-12 scoring leader Allen Crabbe struggled to find space against the long arms of 6-foot-7 defender Andre Roberson, managing just eight points on 4-for-10 shooting.
Like the rest of the Cal squad, his defense made up for it. With under six minutes remaining in the contest, the lanky Crabbe swatted away a Colorado shot attempt. Justin Cobbs missed a layup on the ensuing fastbreak, but David Kravish was there to dunk it back in, giving the Bears a 48-39 cushion.
It was one of Kravish’s 11 boards, which helped Cal outrebound the Buffaloes by 10.
With a modest shooting performance from Crabbe, Cal’s other starting guards shouldered the scoring load. Cobbs scored 16 points on runners and floaters he practically willed to go in. The sometimes-erratic Tyrone Wallace was an efficient 8-for-12 from the field, tying his career high with 16 points. The freshman also added 11 rebounds.
“Pretty impressive,” Montgomery said. “He kind of got wired in. Obviously, he got to the basket, and he didn’t settle for just perimeter shots.”
When Crabbe picked up his third personal foul with 5:11 remaining in the first half, the Bears were up 14-13 and looked to be in trouble. Following a Roberson bucket, however, Cal scored eight unanswered points, taking a 24-20 lead and the momentum into halftime.
In the second half, there were no long scoring runs, no bombardment of threes. In fact, the Bears did not make a single 3-pointer in the game.
Slowly but surely, though, Cal built up its lead through defense. The Bears logged 16 fastbreak points, with Wallace’s emphatic slam dunks exciting Cal’s biggest home crowd of the season.
The Bears, who remain one game out of first place, return to action Wednesday in their regular-season finale against Stanford.
“We’ve got one more to go, one more to win,” Kravish said. “Then it’s out of our hands.”
Jonathan Kuperberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].