Cal's 67-54 home victory over Washington State on Saturday afternoon was an avoidance measure.
Getting a second Pac-12 victory was significant, but more significant was what the Bears avoided - a devastating loss. If Cal had lost at home to what might be the worst team in the conference just three days after a decisive home loss to Washington in which the Bears scored the fewest points in a conference game since Mike Montgomery became their coach . . . well, the consequences could have been dire.
The Golden Bears (10-6, 2-2) don't look like a conference title contender at the moment, but a loss to WSU would have severely crippled their NCAA Tournament chances and would have been a major blow psychologically.
Cal did not overwhelm the Cougars, who were very much in the game until the closing moments. WSU (9-7, 0-3) led by three points with 15 minutes left, and trailed by just three with 51/2 minutes to go. The Bears did not make a single field goal in the final five minutes, but pulled away from the foul line, hitting 11 of 12 free throws in that closing stretch, including the first 10 in a row.
Defense was the key for Cal, which tied a school record with 11 blocked shots and limited the Cougars to 33 percent shooting. Cougars center Brock Motum, the Pac-12's No. 2 scorer behind Cal's Allen Crabbe, had 16 points but was just 5-for-14 from the floor, and his only point in the final 17 minutes came on a free throw with 56 seconds left when Cal had a safe 15-point lead.
Montgomery used an interesting starting alignment on Saturday, with freshman Tyrone Wallace coming off the bench and frontcourt players Jeff Powers and Robert Thurmond, both of whom came to Cal as walk-ons, in the starting lineup.
Powers scored the first points of the game, while Wallace scored a career-high 16 points on 4-for-8 shooting three days after going scoreless against Washington. Wallace had averaged just 5.5 points on 26.7 percent shooting in those previous six games as a starter, so you may see him coming off the bench again.
The Bears' two chief offensive threats - Crabbe and Justin Cobbs - did very little shooting. Crabbe attempted just seven shots, making three, while scoring 14 points, and Cobbs took just two shots, one of which came with 17 seconds left when the outcome had been decided. He made both his shots and scored 10 points while adding five assists. Cobbs and Crabbe made 13 of 15 free throws to pad their numbers.