With 21 seconds left in the game, the Cal men’s basketball team was trailing UCLA, 62-61. But then, with 20 seconds left, something magical happened, as is becoming the case for these Bears.
Junior guard Tyrone Wallace took the ball up the court after a Bruins player missed a free throw to keep UCLA’s lead to just one point. Wallace took the ball from the top of the key, looked and passed left, noticing wide-open graduate transfer forward Dwight Tarwater waiting at the corner. Tarwater neatly collected the ball, and the player who had missed 11 of his previous 3-point attempts nailed what he called the “the biggest shot of my life,” a high-arching dagger, securing a 64-62 win for Cal (15-9, 5-6 Pac-12), the Bears’ third straight win in dramatic fashion.
“I had a pretty rough season last year, and to have this feeling right now is pretty amazing,” Tarwater said. “I’ll probably call my dad first. He’ll probably start crying on the phone or something— he gets pretty emotional.”
Head coach Cuonzo Martin said coming out of the timeout, he had two options planned, depending on whether the Bruins (14-10, 6-5 Pac-12) played a man or zone defense. Martin told Tarwater to be ready to get the ball, and the coach laid out a “wildcard action” in which Wallace would curl off Tarwater while Tarwater would sprint to the corner.
“He put a lot of arch on the ball because that was the only way it was going to get in there,” Martin said. “He had to get it up there. It was just a good shot, a good play. We had the space that we needed. It was just about making a play.”
Two days after Wallace’s buzzer-beater lifted the Bears to victory over USC and less than a week after sophomore guard Sam Singer nailed a trey to put Cal on top of Washington, these exciting wins have given the team something to rally behind after snapping a six-game losing streak.
Unlike during that losing streak, the Bears got key contributions from all kinds of players. Obviously, Tarwater’s was the most memorable, especially for a player who averages just 3.6 points per game, but according to Martin, the game’s true star was freshman center Kingsley Okoroh, who managed to come down with six rebounds and did a good job of holding his own against UCLA’s 6-foot-9 forward Tony Parker.
It also helped Cal to have sophomore guard Jabari Bird back to preinjury form, tallying a team-high 16 points with six rebounds and three assists. Six of his points came from two crucial, late threes.
“Honestly, we’re on cloud nine,” Bird said. “The confidence with everyone on the team is tremendous. … I came into the game with an aggressive mindset, and I carried it throughout the rest of the game. My teammates did a good job of finding me for easy layups and they got me going a little bit. It helped my game a lot today.”
Wallace and sophomore guard Jordan Mathews also had solid games with 12 and 10 points, respectively. Wallace also came down with 10 boards and had a team-high six assists. Another positive was the play of Singer, whose 13 points off the bench was the team’s second-highest point total.
“I knew at some point they were going to start falling, so it’s just about keeping that confidence, working hard and watching the ball go through the net,” Singer said. “I’m very confident that’s how I am going to keep shooting.”