As the clock started to wind down to zero, the tension at Haas Pavilion was palpable. The Cal men’s basketball team was down by three. Twenty seconds, 19 seconds, 18 seconds. And then, with 17 seconds left, the ball sailed over to sophomore guard Jordan Mathews in the right corner. During the timeout, he had told a teammate he was going to nail the shot, one he had practiced almost exactly in practice. So when the ball reached him, Mathews knew what to do.
Nothing but net.
Mathews’ 3-pointer tied the game and sent it into overtime, where the Bears would eventually win, 78-76, in double overtime Wednesday night.
“I didn’t really think about the type of situation,” Mathews said. “I just knew I needed to knock it down and give us more time.”
This game between Cal (6-1) and Montana (2-4) wasn’t supposed to be this close. The Bears had looked great to start the season, even beating then-No. 23 Syracuse, and the Grizzlies had suffered pretty big losses to teams such as Colorado State and USF. But Cal’s turnovers — 22 — kept the Grizzlies close and almost let former Cal assistant coach and now-Montana head coach Travis DeCuire spoil the Bears’ record of being unbeaten at home.
Several of those turnovers were just sloppy mistakes, four coming from Mathews and five coming from junior guard Tyrone Wallace.
“I think we got sped up a little bit,” Wallace said. “Some of the turnovers were just horrible … 22 is just way too many turnovers, and we have to fix that. Too many lazy turnovers and passes we shouldn’t make.”
Head coach Cuonzo Martin said he thought Montana did a good job pressing but that Cal just wasn’t strong enough to limit those turnovers.
“We weren’t aggressive enough in making decisions with the basketball,” Martin said.
There were other problems for the Bears, including the fact that Wallace led the three major categories — points (22), assists (five) and rebounds (15) — not because of his points or assists but because he’s not the kind of player who should be leading the team in rebounds. Wallace is now second in the Pac-12 in points per game (17.9), fifth in rebounds per game (9.0) and eighth in assists per game (4.7). Senior forward David Kravish was second in rebounds with seven but is the kind of player who probably should have had more.
“I tell our big guys, somebody has to step up and rebound the basketball and help Tyrone,” Martin said.
Kravish added six points in overtime, including what would end up being the winning shot with 29.5 seconds left on the clock. He finished with 14 points but according to his coach needs to demand the ball more.
Sophomore guard Sam Singer got his first career start due to fellow sophomore guard Jabari Bird sitting the game out with a foot injury. Brandon Chauca, a freshman guard, recorded his first-ever minutes in a Cal uniform after missing the previous six games due to an NCAA compliance issue, bringing what Martin said was “the x-factor, the unknown.” Chauca hit back-to-back 3-pointers in his first minute on the court and finished with eight points and six assists.
The game was the first time Wallace, Mathews and Chauca had played together on a court — they hadn’t even played as a unit in practice — and Martin was happy with how it worked out. Still, Bird’s presence was missed.
“You have this guy with a reputation and a presence … and he could have a bad game, but he has a reputation and is respected out of the gate,” Martin said. “So just losing that is an adjustment.”
Martin said Bird had an X-ray and an MRI but wouldn’t say much more. When asked what the results showed, he answered, “his foot.” Martin didn’t say how many more games Bird would miss.
Despite the less-than-stellar performance, Martin said he was happy with the game’s result, his team winning such a hard-fought game.
“We came out with a win,” Martin said. “Whatever mistakes may have happened, I’d much rather watch film after a ‘W’ than an ‘L.’ ”
This article originally appeared here.