Pac-12 Tournament: Hot shooting carries Cal past Washington State in first round
LAS VEGAS – Regardless of outcome, a drought was going to end when the California and Washington State men's basketball teams opened the Pac-12 Tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Wednesday.
The eighth-seeded Bears had lost their last three tournament games. The ninth-seeded Cougars hadn't won a conference postseason game since 2009 under then-coach Tony Bennett.
WSU will have to wait another year to snap said six-game losing streak in conference tournament play after Cal rolled to an 84-59 win Wednesday by putting on a shooting clinic.
Senior forward David Kravish scored a career-high 25 points, sophomore guard Jordan Mathews had 19 and Cal was basically unstoppable on offense for much of the afternoon. After a regular season in which it battled inconsistency at that end of the floor, the Bears (18-14) shot 58.5 percent from the field, including eight of 12 from three-point range and 68 percent overall in the second half.
Kravish secured eight rebounds to surpass Brian Hendrick and move to third all-time on the school's career rebounding list, with 905. He also pushed past Ryan Anderson (2007-08) and Brian Wethers (2000-03) to 20th on Cal's career scoring list, with 1,260 career points.
WSU sophomore forward Josh Hawkinson said Kravish exposed WSU's post players. WSU coach Ernie Kent agreed.
"He had not hurt us too bad in the last two games," Kent said. "We talked about keeping the ball out of his hands and keeping him from touching it too much and just didn't think we did a very good job of that. Once he got rolling and got his confidence, he was very, very difficult to stop."
It was a struggle for WSU from the opening minutes, as the Bears jumped out to an 8-2 lead. But the Cougars battled to keep it close and trailed just 26-24 with 3:41 left in the first half after senior guard DaVonté Lacy issued a perfect bounce pass to senior post Jordan Railey on the baseline. Railey followed with a two-handed slam that drew a foul, though he missed the free throw.
It was a rare instant when WSU's offense wasn't stagnant, and the Bears capitalized when their offense finally started rolling.
Cal made nine of of its last 10 shots before halftime to take a 37-26 lead. Sophomore guard Jabari Bird, who finished with nine points, capped Cal's run by draining a three moments before the break. The Bears then made their first five shots to open the second half, prompting another 10-4 spurt to open up a 47-30 lead.
"We were moving. We were cutting. We were patient," said Cal coach Cuonzo Martin. "We established (Kravish) in the post. I thought that set the tone for us offensively... that's where I thought we had an advantage, rolling to the basket, getting offensive rebounds, spacing."
With the way Martin's team was shooting, the outcome seemed sealed. It was.
"When you make shots, you always look good in most cases," he said.
[Related photos: Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament first round]
With the loss, WSU's (13-18) season is over, barring an invitation to the College Basketball Invitational. Sophomore guard Ike Iroegbu led WSU with 17 points, while Hawkinson, the Pac-12's Most Improved Player for 2014-15, chipped in 14 points and 11 rebounds in 31 minutes. Railey added 12 points.
In Kent's first season at WSU, the Cougars won three more games than 2013-14, and improved their conference record from 3-15 to to 7-11.
"I was elated the day (WSU athletic director) Bill Moos gave me an opportunity to come back and work for him and get back into coaching," Kent said. "Every day, even through the adversity, it's been a good day, because even through your losses, through the adversity of coming back, (our) basketball program was constantly learning and growing and getting better."
In likely his final game in a WSU uniform, Lacy scored just nine points in 35 minutes while being hounded most of the game by Bird.
"That was one of the biggest keys for us defensively, to be able to stop him and keep Hawkinson off the glass," Martin said. "I thought (Bird) accepted that challenge. He embraced it and he wanted that. He did a great job of staying down. He didn't get back-doored the whole game... and it's a tough, tough thing to do against a guy that caliber the way he moves and shoots the basketball."
The win moves Cal to the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals, where it plays No. 1 seed Arizona at noon on Thursday. Fans can watch the game on Pac-12 Networks or with free access on Pac-12.com and Pac-12 Now. During the regular season, the Bears lost to Arizona, 73-50, Jan. 24 at Haas Pavilion and 99-60, March 5, at McKale Center.
"I don't know if it's daunting," said Martin. "You're playing against an opponent in your league. We didn't play well at their place last time. We'll make adjustments and go from there."