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January 20, 2012
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SEATTLE (AP) -- For not facing many close late-game situations this season, California coach Mike Montgomery has plenty of areas to work on going forward.
He'll be doing it after the Bears' most impressive road victory of the season.
Sophomore wing Allen Crabbe scored 16 points, unheralded walk-on Robert Thurman added a career-high 16 off the bench, and California remained in at least a tie for first place in the Pac-12 with a critical 69-66 win over Washington on Thursday night.
Cal tried to give this one away, watching a 13-point second-half lead get whittled to two in the final 11 seconds. The Bears collectively held their breath as the Huskies' Darnell Gant got an open look at a potential tying 3-pointer as the final seconds ticked away.
Gant's shot was short, and California left snowy Seattle knowing it would at the least retain a share of the conference lead.
"He hadn't hit one yet, but we knew he was a confident shooter and can hit that," Cal's Harper Kamp said. "I was a little disappointed I didn't read they were going to him on that last play sooner, 'cause he almost made that."
Crabbe was at his typical best, grabbing 10 rebounds and playing harassing defense on Washington swingman Terrence Ross most of the night. But Ross got free in the final minutes, hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the final 1:33 to pull the Huskies within 68-66 with 10.1 seconds remaining.
Cal's Justin Cobbs split a pair of free throws with 8.2 seconds left to give Washington a chance. Montgomery called a timeout to set his defense and chose not to foul, considering the few final-second situations his team has faced this season and not wanting to risk fouling on a 3-point attempt.
But allowing a wide-open look wasn't what Montgomery wanted either.
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar knew Ross would be blanketed by the suffocating defense of Jorge Gutierrez. So he went to Gant, who had missed all eight of his previous shots. The decision caught everyone in dark blue by surprise as Gant got a wide-open look from beyond the 3-point line off a pass from Abdul Gaddy, but his shot clanged off the front rim.
Gant said he thought his shot was in when it left his hand.
"I knew I was going to be open. I took the shot with confidence. It just came up short," Gant said. "I put that on me. (Romar) came up with a good play. I didn't do my job coming through."
California's late-game execution leaves some to be desired. The Bears committed four turnovers in their final eight offensive possessions. They scored just two field goals in the final five minutes -- one of those a key 3-pointer from Cobbs with 2:28 left. Cobbs finished with 14 points.
But Cal did enough earlier to make up for those late lapses -- and for a 109-77 loss to the Huskies in Seattle last year.
"It was one of the things we were thinking about and one of the things we talked about before the game," Kamp said. "Me and Jorge knew this was our last chance to win at this place. Last year left us pretty bitter so it meant a lot to us."
Part of that early success was the surprising production out of Thurman. Averaging 7.3 minutes and 2.4 points in 15 games this season, Thurman more than made up for the loss of Richard Solomon, the Bears' key inside reserve who Wednesday was ruled academically ineligible for the rest of the season. Thurman made 5 of 7 shots in the first half, his 12 points in the half a new career high. He scored eight straight points for Cal during one stretch as the Bears extended an early lead to 22-12 midway through the half.
= Cal led 35-25 at halftime and took its largest lead at 43-30 when Ross threw a lazy pass that was intercepted and led to Gutierrez's run-out layup.
Washington trailed by 11 when its final run began, despite missing earlier chances to swing momentum. Two Tony Wroten free throws had the lead down to 55-51. But with 6:54 left, Aziz N'Diaye was called for a rebounding foul and Romar erupted, picking up a technical foul. Crabbe hit the two technical free throws, true freshman David Kravish hit a pair for the foul and Cal's lead was back to 59-51. It wasn't until Ross' basket with 1:04 left that Washington finally got the lead under four points.
N'Diaye scored 14 points and pulled down 12 rebounds for Washington.
"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," Romar said. "It picked up more in the second half, but against a team like that it wasn't good enough to overcome the deficit."
The Huskies' normally rowdy, packed home crowd was thinned by a nasty snow and ice storm that paralyzed the region and shut down classes at Washington for a second straight day on Thursday. California flew to Seattle earlier than expected on Wednesday to beat the some of the storm, and the game officials had to fly into Portland, Ore., and drive up to Seattle on Thursday.