After a regular season marked by inconsistency, the Cal men’s basketball team (17-14, 7-11 Pac-12) will hope to kick off the Pac-12 Tournament on a high note this week in Las Vegas, Nevada. The No. 8 seeded Bears will face No. 9 seeded Washington State (13-7, 7-11 Pac-12) on Wednesday afternoon in the first game of the tournament. The winner of the match will face No. 1 seeded Arizona, inarguably one of the best teams in the country, on Thursday in the quarterfinals.
“Every game is important. I think our guys did a good job of growing,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin on his team’s struggles this year. “The next thing is getting ready for Washington State.”
Cal and Washington State split the season series this year and finished in a three-way tie for eighth place in the conference with Colorado. The Cougars stole a nail-biting 69-66 road win Jan. 4, fending off a Bears comeback and a potential game-tying 3-pointer from sophomore guard Jordan Mathews at the buzzer. This loss began a six-game losing streak for the Bears that would become a midseason collapse. Cal, however, won the most recent meeting between the conference rivals, clinching a 76-67 win in Pullman, Washington, spurred by junior guard Tyrone Wallace’s 21 second-half points. Wallace was named to the First-Team All Pac-12 team Monday, as voted by the league’s head coaches.
“It’s a great accomplishment — it goes to show that with hard work, you can pretty much accomplish anything,” Wallace said. “I don’t think anybody thought I would be First-Team Pac-12. My teammates helped me get there. The coaches trusted me.”
Wallace was the only Pac-12 player this year to rank top-five in scoring, assists and rebounds, and averaged 17.2 points per game, good for fifth in the conference. His season was highlighted by a long buzzer-beater from beyond the arc against USC on Feb. 5 to secure a 70-69 win for the Bears.
In Cal’s January loss to the Cougars, Washington State was led by senior guard DaVonté Lacy, who recorded 14 points, and sophomore forward Josh Hawkinson, who finished the night with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Hawkinson is averaging one double-double a game and leads the conference with 10.8 rebounds per game. Hawkinson was named Pac-12 Most Improved Player of the Year and earned a nod for All-Pac-12 honorable mention, while Lacy was named All-Pac-12 First Team, alongside Wallace.
“For us, it starts with Lacy — Lacy and Hawkinson, those are the two guys everyone else feeds off of. That’s what good players do,” Martin said. “You allow the other guys to be the role guys they need to be in order for the team to be successful.”
Lacy, the only Cougar to start all 30 games this year, ranks fourth in the conference in scoring and became Washington State’s all-time career leader in made 3-pointers this year with 249, surpassing former Cougar guard Klay Thompson’s 242.
“I think when we played them here at home, we didn’t do a good job defensively. I think their bigs killed us,” Wallace said. “We didn’t do a good job of communicating on the tight curls with Lacy. Those are all things we need to work on.”
Despite winning only one of its last six games, Cal will hope its backcourt can muster enough offense to guide the Bears past the first round.