Cal men’s basketball overpowers Washington State, 80-62

Zainab Ali/File

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Coming off a close victory in its first Pac-12 road win of the year, the Cal men’s basketball team headed to Pullman, Washington, to face the worst team in the conference. The Bears needed to come away with a win in order to continue their ascent to the NCAA Tournament.

And Cal did just that. Led by by both upperclassmen and freshmen alike, the Bears (19-8, 9-5 Pac-12) were victorious for the second time on the road in the Pac-12, easily defeating Washington State (9-18, 1-14), 80-62.

The first portion of the game could not have gone better for Cal. Playing in front of a lively Washington State crowd, the Bears pulled out to an early lead off the success of the very freshmen who were responsible for their hype earlier this season. Freshman forward Jaylen Brown had the first five points of the game and fellow freshman forward Ivan Rabb followed the effort with a jumper of his own to bring the score to 7-2.

Less than a minute later, Cal opened up the three-point shooting even more with junior guard Jabari Bird making his first three of the night. Bird went on to score nine points in the first half alone, 13 in the game.

The scoring for Cal slowed down some for the rest of the first half, allowing Washington State to get as close as down six points with just less than two minutes to play in the half. A three-pointer by Mathews to end the half only added to the most important area for the Bears on offense, where they went 6-10 going into the locker room. Washington State, however, relied on every foul opportunity that Cal provided it, shooting 12-13 to the Bears’ fewer opportunities, 4-5.

Scoring became hard to come by in the second portion of the game, as well with both teams shooting well below 50 percent overall in the opening 10 minutes.

Rabb played limited minutes in the second half, due to picking up his third foul three minutes into the half. The game was a unique effort for Cal on offensive as six players finished with eight or more points. The Bears typically do not get this type of offensive production from so many people on the floor.

The team’s defensive production was also on display as the big men, Kingsley Okoroh, Kameron Rooks and Rabb, were instrumental in protecting the rim throughout the night, finishing with three blocks and forcing Washington State into shooting around 40 percent on the night.  Cal’s dominant defense held leading scorer, forward Josh Hawkinson to just 12 points and seven rebounds.

The Cougars seemed to hang around in the beginning of the half, but the visiting team proceeded to go on a 19-4 run. The run was aided by a stellar performance from senior guard Tyrone Wallace, who went on a 13-point scoring run, making all six of his baskets, after scoring no points in the first half. Wallace finished with 17 points. For the Cougars, the star ended up not being Hawkinson but Que Johnson who led any effort Washington State had on offense with 17 points of his own.

With the potential of a Pac-12 regular season title on the line, the Bears will need to repeat this type of performance into the conclusion of their season to see if any of their “final-four caliber” hype can be realized.

Alaina Getzenberg covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].Follow her on Twitter @agetzenberg.