The fallout of the game has unquestioned impact on the Pac-12 title race. With the loss, Washington (11-7, 4-2) will basically have to play flawless basketball the rest of the way to keep pace with California (16-4, 6-1), who now has a precious league road win to help cushion their resume for post-season play. It's looking more and more like the Huskies will once again have to rely on a Pac-12 tournament title in order to punch any ticket they can get to March Madness.
For the Bears, if Stanford loses to Washington State, they will be the only one-loss team in the Pac-12, and had already secured a vital road win over Oregon before Thursday's triumph.
"We got beat by a good team," said Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar. "My biggest gripe tonight is that we kind of repeated our mistakes against Washington State. We didn’t come out with the type of fire, and I shouldn’t say fire because I thought we played hard, but not with the type of concentration we needed. It picked up more in the second half but against a team like that it wasn’t good enough to overcome the deficit. Down the stretch I thought our guys fought. We played extremely hard, but we came up on the short end obviously."
Cal led by 10 at halftime, but couldn't keep the Huskies from mounting comeback after comeback, and after Desmond Simmons' reverse layup went through, UW was only down three - 66-63 - with one minute to go. But Harper Kamp buried two clutch free throws 51.4 seconds left, and when Terrence Ross made his third and final three-point shot with 10.1 seconds remaining, it was Cal's Justin Cobbs that had two free throws to ice the game.
Cobbs' first effort went crying off the front rim as the 9591 in attendance that braved the ice and snow cheered madly. He then threw up another shot that looked like it would bounce off the front of the iron exactly like the first, but it caught the inside lip and went down.
After a Cal timeout, Abdul Gaddy raced down the court. Instead of trying to find the hot Ross, who was guarded closely by defensive stopper Jorge Gutierrez, Gaddy turned his back to the basket just inside the three-point arc on the left elbow and tossed it back to the senior tri-captain Gant. Gant, who had not made a shot all game long - 0-8 from the field, including 0-5 from deep - threw up a pretty shot that looked like it had a chance to go down, but it registered a resounding clank. As freshman guard Tony Wroten tried in vain to grasp the loose ball for one last effort, the horn sounded and the Bears celebrated their dramatic victory.
"It was designed for Gant," Romar said of the last shot. "The last game we had he hit three 3’s. He’s shooting over 40 percent. Sometimes just because somebody is having an off-night, if you look at the body of work they’ve put forth, you got to take that chance. He’s shooting a good percentage and usually knocks those down."
We talked about fouling, but it’s not something we worked on," added Cal Head Coach Mike Montgomery. "Conventional wisdom, most coaches don’t. But the way Ross had shot the ball, for example, we certainly thought about it. With N’Diaye you worry about an offensive board and potentially getting beat, that’s the thing, not so much that they rebound, but they tip it back and they get another shot. So now they’re two, and they get another one, boom they win. So, you hope that you can defend.
"We were trying to switch everything and thought that Ross would probably get it. We were going to switch everything. We told them to drive him off the three-point line. We haven’t had a lot of close games. Games we’ve lost, we’ve lost fairly substantially other than San Diego State. So we haven’t had a lot of situations like that, but in a 30- second timeout it could be confusing. All the sudden the guy’s in a shooting motion and you foul him. That would be the worst thing you could do so we elected not to. I think the thing that was the most discouraging was that they got a second look. Once you get them to miss, you have got to secure the ball. So that was a little bit concerning. If you make two free throws, you don’t have that situation."
The Bears were led by the 16 points apiece of Allen Crabbe and walk-on center Robert Thurman, whose 12 first-half points were a career-high. Cobbs added 14 points. Ross led four UW players in double figures with 15 points. Wroten and center Aziz N'diaye each chipped in 14, while Gaddy tossed in 12 for good measure. N'Diaye also had 12 rebounds in the losing effort.
As it was with Washington State, the Huskies just couldn't get out of the gates with a flourish, consistently missing wide-open looks. Crabbe buried his first look from three, and the Bears were off to the races. They led by as many as 12 after Crabbe's two free throws with remaining, and eventually finished the half up 10.
Washington was determined to get back in the game, but it took them a while to crawl back. The loss of sharpshooter C.J. Wilcox to a stress fracture of his femur was certainly felt, especially in those times when hitting an open three or two could have ignited those in attendance even sooner.
The last 20 minutes was a series of runs: After Kamp's two free throws to start out Cal's second-half scoring, UW went on a 5-0 run, punctuated by an N'Diaye dunk over Cobbs and-one. The Senegalese junior couldn't convert the free throw, and Cal then went on a 6-0 run of their own to lead 43-30 with just under 16 minutes remaining in the game. The two teams traded baskets, and then the Huskies made their biggest move of the game; an 8-0 spurt capped off by Ross' first three of the game with 13:18 left.
But the Bears were ready, led by their two stars Crabbe and Gutierrez. They combined for another 6-0 run to bump their lead back to a respectable 53-42 with 11:28 remaining. Washington still had fight in them, and refused to go away quietly. This time it was Wroten who asserted himself, making his first three since the opening conference game against Oregon State back on December 29th. Two made free throws by Wroten cut the lead to four with 8:35 left, the first time they had been within five points of Cal since Ross' first three-pointer.
With the crowd urging them on, Washington got a defensive stop and Aziz N'Diaye looked to make a play inside, but instead was called for his fourth foul of the night. The partisans in attendance weren't in the officials' corner anyway - not since Ross picked up his second and third fouls of the night in a span of nine seconds, the third coming on a controversial call that resulted in an eventual layup by Thurman.
When it was clear the officials were going to call N'Diaye for an offensive foul, Romar lost it. He earned his second technical foul in as many games, and four free throws later the Bears were back up by eight, 59-51. A Cobbs three-ball with 2:29 left seemed to give the Bears an insurmountable lead at 66-58, but Ross responded with a three of his own with 1:37 to set up the final dramatics.
"We always have the mindset that if we are up in the second half we have to just maintain," said Ross. "If we’re down, we obviously have to fight back and we have to come back and win. We just always have to have that mindset or it’s no point trying to come out and play in the second half."
"They can be very, very aggressive and in the second half, they did a little bit of the same thing they did to Washington State," Montgomery added. "They just got out and sold out. We turned the ball over too much, sometimes for no reason. And sometimes those lead to easy shots for them, easy baskets. I thought in the half court we did a good job defensively when we weren’t turning it over. In the first half, they played a lot of zone. I think they’re not as deep as they’ve been in the past."
Points: Ross 15, N'Diaye 14, Wroten 14, Gaddy 12, Simmons 8, Kemp 2, Gant 1
Rebounds: N'Diaye 12, Ross 5, Wroten 4, Simmons 3, Gaddy 2, Stewart 2, Gant 2, TEAM 1
Assists: Gaddy 2, Wroten 2, Ross 2, Simmons 1
Steals: Wroten 3, Ross 2, Gant 2, Simmons 1, Gaddy 1
Blocks: Kemp 1