Cal men’s basketball shakes up college hoops landscape with upset over No. 25 Washington

A basketball player runs with the ball as an opponent tries to stop him.
Brian Bi/Staff

Related Posts

What once was lost has now been found. After slogging through two months in college basketball hell, Cal men’s basketball has finally arisen to the light.

Cal shocked the entire college basketball world Thursday night with a 76-73 upset of No. 25 Washington, securing its precious first victory of conference play and snapping a 16-game losing streak as well as a 23-game conference losing streak. Those aren’t typos. It finally happened.

Needless to say, considering everything that this team has been through over the course of this season, the Bears were on cloud nine in the locker room after finally changing that number in the win column from five to six.

“I’m soaking wet because they doused me with water — we had a good time in there celebrating the win,” said Cal head coach Wyking Jones. “Like I said, I’m just so happy for the guys because they have gone through this losing streak, and we have all stayed positive; we have all continued to work and fight and scratch and claw, and we’ve gotten close so many times. For them to get a win tonight over a really, really good team just means a lot for us.”

The script of this ballgame was familiar enough. Cal came out swinging. From the depths of nothing emerged the possibility of something. But as anyone who has watched this team will attest, the scenario is all too familiar.

Over the course of the Bears’ skid, the times in which they came out with fight only to falter down the stretch were too frequent to count. The illusion of hope always seemed to wither away as the more talented team prevailed.

It was like a record stuck on replay. The Bears wanted to drown the cacophony of their opponents’ battle cries with jubilation of their own, but time and time again, the oasis of victory was but a mirage.

Tonight, however, the Bears’ collective thirst for a win was effectively quenched. Just as everyone expected, their lone win thus far has come against a Huskies team that just clinched the outright Pac-12 regular-season title.

After being humbled in Seattle a month ago by Washington’s vicious defense, one of the best units in the country, Cal appeared to have the know-how of a team that’s picked apart the two-three zone for decades.

The Bears shimmied and slithered through the Huskies’ front line en route to a season-high 22 assists. Floor general Paris Austin looked like himself again and had nine dimes. Justice Sueing flashed his point forward ability with six of his own. Matt Bradley chipped in four.

It also helped that the Bears had the perfect counter to Mike Hopkins’ famous zone: Connor Vanover. Not even the wingspan of Matisse Thybulle could check the 7’3” Vanover, who scored a career-high 18 points, most of which came from the midrange game.

“They were leaving me open at the beginning of the game in midrange,” Vanover said. “I was just knocking them down, so I kept shooting.”

On a night in which Stanford curb-stomped Washington State by 48 points and Oregon threw a wrench into Arizona State’s tournament plans with a 28-point obliteration, the status quo could have been maintained — at least as far as Washington and Cal are concerned.

With about five minutes remaining in regulation, Cal and Washington were notched up at 71 points apiece. This was a time for the cream to rise to the top, for the Huskies to place the prior 35 minutes on the back burner and stave off a catastrophic loss.

Neither team played well, by any stretch of the imagination, as the game’s final minutes ticked away. There were bad turnovers. There were missed open looks. There were questionable shots. At the end of it all, the Bears managed to play just enough defense and mustered just enough offense to end up the victors.

Washington had its chances. With less than 30 seconds remaining, down by 3 points, the Huskies had three opportunities to send the game into overtime.

Dominic Green missed a difficult three with lots of time left. Jaylen Nowell couldn’t knock down a three after gaining separation. And David Crisp, who ended with a career-high 32 points, clanked a three that he had 1.2 seconds to get off.

“They kept their composure,” Jones said. “We turned it over a couple times, late — they did as well — but the guys just continued to believe, more than anything.”

Not much has gone right for the Bears during the 2018-19 season. A single win will not magically change this team’s fate. They’ve locked up last place in the Pac-12, and the offseason poses more questions than answers. Yet, if for just a night, they can once again bask in the glory that is victory.

Justice delos Santos covers men’s basketball. Contact Justice delos Santos at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @justdelossantos.