Cal men’s basketball wins thriller against Saint Mary’s, 63-59

Rachael Garner/Senior Staff

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Down by one point to undefeated Saint Mary’s with less than 20 seconds to play, the Bears needed a basket. Despite going into halftime up by double-digits, the Cal men’s basketball team had allowed the Gaels to find their way into the game as they took the lead and kept it for much of the second period.

Knowing that time was running out, the Bears called a timeout to set up their offense. And it worked.

Senior guard Tyrone Wallace found junior guard Jabari Bird on the right wing, and he proceeded to find the basket for an easy three and Cal’s eighth win of the year.

“Great game for the Bay Area,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin. “(The Gaels) play hard and they play together. It’s a fun game to watch, and it was a great game to be a part of.”

At one point, seeing Saint Mary’s was an annual tradition for the Cal men’s basketball team (8-2), creating a Bay Area competition that was as fierce as it comes.

To keep with tradition of the series, which Cal currently controls, 62-16, the Bears beat Saint Mary’s (6-1), 63-59, on Saturday afternoon to remain undefeated at home in one of their best performances of the season so far.

After going up 6-2 to start the game, the Bears struggled to hold onto their early lead. Freshman forward Ivan Rabb had a strong game finishing with a double-double, 15 points and 11 rebounds, but surrendered an early turnover that led to a layup by the Gaels’ Evan Fitzner to give Saint Mary’s its first points of the game. Fitzner went on to end the day as the Gaels’ leading scorer with 15 points.

Saint Mary’s success continued, as the Gaels proceeded to go on an 8-0 run over 2:28, shooting a perfect 4-4. After the run, Cal was shooting a measly 28.6 percent to Saint Mary’s 60 percent.

The Bears, however, finally found their way back into the game with junior guard Jordan Mathews scoring back-to-back threes to give Cal the lead, 17-15, with less than half of the first period to play. Mathews went on to finish the game tied for second on the team with 13 points.

Before the half concluded, the Bears extended their run out to 11-2. Saint Mary’s shooting struggles escalated in the second part of the half, with the divided crowd finally getting into the game and finding its allegiance with Cal.

After the Bears went into the half with the lead, 37-26, the Gaels came out hot with Fitzner shooting three treys in about five minutes to bring Saint Mary’s within four. A layup by forward Dane Pineau brought Saint Mary’s even closer to taking back the lead Cal had held since the seven-minute mark of the first half.

Redshirt sophomore center Kameron Rooks responded with a score of his own — his only points of the day. He then retrieved the defensive rebound for the Bears, which Bird followed up by draining a three, creating an even bigger hole for Saint Mary’s.

A turnover by Cal, however, led to a three-pointer by guard Emmett Naar, giving the Gaels their first lead of the half. Even though Naar is Saint Mary’s leading scorer and averaging 16.5 points a game coming in, the basket ended up being Naar’s only points of the game.

Saint Mary’s stretched out its lead by putting two more points on the board, completing a 12-0 run highlighted by a three-minute scoring drought for Cal that Rabb ended with a layup. The Gaels continued to take advantage of the Bears’ inability to take control of the game, putting up three more points on a trey by forward Calvin Hermanson. With three and a half minutes to play, Bird responded with a three of his own, tying the game up.

With than less than a minute to play, Saint Mary’s maintained possession of the ball. With the Bears only down one point, a block by Rabb led to the ball hitting off a Gael and heading out of bounds, leaving Bird to win the game.

“I was waiting for my turn and (Wallace) made a great play, got me the ball and I knocked the shot down.” Bird said. “I knew it was going in. I wouldn’t have it shot if I didn’t know it was going in.”

Alaina Getzenberg covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]