The big, physical Golden Bears protected their home rims against the best shooting offense in the nation.
Saint Mary's had a chance to take a three point lead in the final minute when Ivan Rabb (15 points, 11 rebounds) blocked Joe Rahon's lay-up. It was Rabb's fourth block of the game and the tenth for his team. Things only got worse for Rahon, who missed the front end of a one and one, down two points, with 1.7 seconds to play. It was an unfortunate ending that overshadowed an otherwise stellar performance from Rahon and his Gaels.
The hot shooting visitors came out swinging in the first half, at one point making six straight, in what was a back and forth game. Then the home team got it together and closed out the half on a tear. Cal's lead grew to 12 points and the Golden Bears led by 11 at the break.
After the break Saint Mary's really got things going.
An 11-2 run from the Gaels, keyed by Evan Fitzner (15 points, three of five from deep) from behind the arc, completely turned the game around. What was verging on a blow out had once again become a one possession game. With Fitzner draining threes and Rahon (16 points) working the high ball screen like former Gaels great Matthew Dellavedova, that left the leading scorer this season as the odd man out.
Emmett Naar, who came into today averaging over 16 points per game for Randy Bennett's club, didn't score until the 11:48 mark of the second half. He made his first bucket count, though, as it gave the Gaels a 45-44 lead. Moments later Calvin Hermanson also hit a three to score his first points of the game and once again it gave the lead back to Saint Mary's.
Neither team was able to put a run together in the second half, and the result was a close, back and forth affair down the stretch. The Gaels looked ready to get a run going when a block at one end turned into a Jabari Bird putback dunk at the other. Very nearly a two possession lead turned immediately into a tie ball game.
For Cal their runs were stifled by missed shots and one and done possessions. Dane Pineau pulled down 15 rebounds, most of which came down the stretch on the defensive end.
It was the length and athleticism around the rim that won this one for Cal. The Gaels bigs had a hard time finding space inside. And while Rahon made a living driving into the paint and getting shots to fall off the glass, his last foray ended at the hands of Ivan Rabb.
Cal was a top-15 team in both major polls entering this season. Two early losses tarnished this potentially explosive team's resume. But today they got a big win over a previously undefeated, and high level mid-major program. For the Gaels, despite the loss, they were impressive. This isn't just a team that shoots lights out at home against poor competition. Randy Bennett has a squad that can play with just about anybody. They're on track to enter WCC play with the conference's best record after being picked to finish fourth in the coaches poll.