Stealing a page from the Huskies' playbook, the Cal Bears pressured the visitors into 12 first-half turnovers for a lead they would never relinquish. Not that the Huskies didn't make the crowd at Haas Pavilion nervous. Trailing 60-47, Washington reversed the momentum with a late 19-6 run, forging the first—and last—tie of the game with 38 seconds remaining on a 3-point bomb from Ryan Appleby. But California's catalysts, Ayinde Ubaka and Leon Powe, hit four of five free throws in the final half-minute and Powe got a bear paw on Brandon Roy's 3-point attempt with 10 seconds left to swat away the Husky comeback. One tick after Roy drained a circus 3-ball, the Cal student section poured onto the court in celebration of the 71-69 upset.
The Berkeley Bears greeted the Huskies with an ungracious 2-1-2 trapping defense that rattled the Dawg squad more than anyone would have anticipated. Freshman point guard Justin Dentmon, in particular, struggled as his Pac-10 initiation by fire continued. When the 20-year old QB was called for a charge with 7:23 remaining in the half, he exited with more personal fouls and turnovers, three apiece, than assists and points combined (2). Seconds later Ubaka knocked down his third 3-pointer of the game as the Bears took an eight-point lead that bulged before halftime.
Appleby kept the Huskies within striking distance on 4-of-4 shooting behind the arc in the first frame. The sophomore from Stanwood stood tall for the Huskies with 15 points and only two turnovers in 31 minutes off the bench. But the Bears converted the UW turnovers into 17 points as their margin danced into double digits late in the half.
"We did a poor job of handling (the pressure) tonight, as well as just in-bounding the ball," said coach Lorenzo Romar. "They probably scored eight to ten points just off of that alone."
The Dawgs came out of the locker room with some bite as a Roy 3-point play triggered a 7-0 UW run in the first two minutes. Jamaal Williams matched Roy's hustle play, tracking down a loose ball and feeding Jon Brockman for a slammer that cut the lead to 40-39. But the Bears responded with an 11-point run of their own behind the smooth shooting of guard Omar Wilkes, the son of former Laker and Warrior standout Jamaal "Silk" Wilkes. The sophomore hit five consecutive shots, leading Cal to a 13-point advantage before he was forced to sit with his fourth personal.
With Dentmon on the bench for all but 15 minutes, Appleby was pulled away from his normal catch-and-shoot mode into a ball-handling role. Roy helped answer the call with 14 points and six assists in the second half. The UDub's main man finished with 23 points, just a notch over his Pac-10 average, as well as a career-high nine assists.
Powe, the bulkiest Bear, helped keep the Dawgs at arms length for much of the half as he grabbed 13 rebounds. The Pac-10 scoring and rebounding leader, Powe paced Cal with 18 points, and combined with the 6-foot-11 human pogo-stick, Devon Hardin, to keep the Huskies off the boards. Washington had only one offensive rebound in the first half (finishing with an uncharacteristic eight), and was held to 30 boards, nearly matching a season low.
Still trailing by 13 points with 7:25 remaining, the Huskies gathered themselves with better ball-control while they pestered and pilfered the Bears. With a defensive intensity that was missing for much of the game, the Dawgs came alive as Joel Smith contributed four scrappy points and Bobby Jones, who had been shutout in the first half, drilled a pair of 3-balls. With less than 3 minutes left, Smith and Appleby combined for three offensive rebounds in an inspired possession that culminated in a Roy layup, pulling the Dawgs within three. Following a shooting foul on Jones, Wilkes hit the first of seven Cal free throws with 1:30 remaining. Another twisting layup by Roy and Appleby's only points of the second half, his fifth trey, tied the game with 38 seconds. But when Roy missed a double-clutching jumper in traffic with 20 seconds, the Golden Bears were able to ice it at the line.
"We weren't getting it done with our normal man pressure, so we knew we had to bring something different," said Appleby. "We did a good job of fighting back and getting those turnovers, but it just wasn't enough in the end."
Even though the Huskies outscored California 37-31 in the second half, the late flurry fell short just as it had versus Washington State. Ubaka helped snap the Dawgs' four-game winning streak with 15 points, seven assists and three steals, while his backcourt mates, Wilkes (6-of-8 shooting) and Richard Midgley, combined for 23 points. The Huskies had a significant advantage from 3-point range (10-16 to Cal's 4-15), but the Bears countered by hitting 15 of 17 free throws. Ultimately, the 18 turnovers and the many one-and-done possessions were the Dawgs' undoing.
"We didn't want (Powe) to go off for 25 or 30 points. He scored early, but I thought we did a decent job after that," said Romar. "Ayinde (Ubaka) went through a period where he hurt us with some big baskets, but all in all, if we compete for two halves and take care of the basketball, maybe we're talking about a different outcome. But you know, everyone has a sob story when you lose."
Washington had a respectable shooting night (47 percent) with the exception of Williams who struggled against the Bears' bigs, hitting only 1 of 8 field goals. With another challenging big man waiting in the form of Stanford's 6-foot-11 Matt Haryasz, Brockman's 10 rebounds and seven points were encouraging. But Roy will need some support from his fellow seniors at Stanford as Jones and Williams were limited to a combined 12 points. In the shortest rotation of the season, Romar used only eight players but got 25 points off the bench thanks to Appleby's 5-of-6 shooting from triple town.
The loss, the Huskies' third in 19 games—same as last year's record—dropped them into a three-way tie for third with Stanford and Cal (5-3 in the conference standings) and a half-game behind Arizona. The Cardinal dispatched Washington State 69-59 on the strength of 22 points from Haryasz. The Huskies are now faced with picking up their first win at Maples Pavilion since 1993 if they are to avoid their first losing road trip in two years. Prior to the sweep in Los Angeles two weeks ago, Washington has split every road swing since dropping back-to-back games at Berkeley and Palo Alto the first week of Jan. 2004.
But going into the Sunday collision course with the Cardinal, maybe the Huskies are just where they need to be—with their backs against the wall. Following the losses to Arizona and WSU, they came out with fiery halves in southern California. Just ask the Trojans and Bruins. But the Dawgs will need more than one hot half, and more than one point guard, if they're to snap Stanford's seven-game winning streak at Maples.
Washington will have two days to stew about the loss. Beware of an angry Dawg.