With less than 30 seconds left in a one-possession game and the ball in the hands of the Wyoming men’s basketball team, Cal guard Tyrone Wallace saw an unlikely opportunity.
Guarding Wyoming point guard Josh Adams near the top of the key, Wallace moved around a high screen to swat the ball away from Adams mid-dribble. Cal guard Sam Singer was there to collect the loose ball, and a pass back to Wallace, followed by a quick dunk, gave the Bears a 43-39 lead as the home crowd suddenly came to life at Haas Pavilion.
But Wallace’s second steal of the night wouldn’t be his last. Before the end of regulation, the junior would register another to create one last scoring opportunity in a 45-42 win for the Cal men’s basketball team Wednesday night. The narrow victory improves the Bears’ record to 8-1 and gives the squad its best start in 13 years.
“(It was) one of those games you have to win if you want to be a good program,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin.
Yet the win was far from a pretty one. Coming into Wednesday’s matchup with just one loss, the Cowboys (8-2) brought a stalwart defense and a slow-paced offense that clashed with the Bears’ preference for a fast-paced game. Add to that a cold shooting night from key contributors such as forward David Kravish, who finished with 4 points, and the absence of guard Jabari Bird, and the result was a low-scoring contest with field goal percentages that hovered below 40 percent throughout most of the match.
“I think we got good looks,” Wallace said. “I think David got really good looks — just wasn’t really converting.”
Both teams’ shooting woes would be apparent early on. Ten minutes into the game, Wyoming was shooting just 29 percent and Cal just 21 percent. And despite a few highlight plays from Cal forward Christian Behrens and Wyoming forward Larry Nance Jr., both squads would struggle to capitalize on offensive opportunities heading into the final minutes of the period.
The end of the frame wouldn’t look much different. With the first half winding down, Cal guard Brandon Chauca launched his third 3 of the day, only to watch it bounce off the rim into the hands of Nance, who would end up the Cowboys’ leading scorer with 13 points. The rebound gave the Cowboys the final possession before halftime, but two consecutive 3-point attempts from guard Riley Grabau also bounced off the rim to end the half with only a 16-15 lead for Wyoming.
While those offensive struggles would continue into the second half, Wallace’s game-leading 17 points — 12 of which were scored after halftime — would help the Bears improve to 45 percent shooting in the second frame. Meanwhile, Behrens would also have a solid second half performance with 8 points in the second half and 12 points overall.
“Every game, it feels like I have more confidence to do more stuff out there,” Behrens said.