Cal’s players realized they had to chat after struggling the other night to beat Incarnate Word. That’s what teams do when they slide out of the national top 25 while featuring future NBA talent: They have a closed-door meeting.
The Bears met with their coaches, too. “We knew we had to talk about something,” star freshman Ivan Rabb said.
The sessions paid off Saturday when Cal held off its East Bay neighbor, Saint Mary’s, for a 63-59 win after Jabari Bird’s go-ahead 3-pointer with 15.2 seconds left. The programs renewed their rivalry for the first time in more than a decade.
Cal coach Cuonzo Martin is ready to talk to Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett about a regular series between the Bay Area programs, perhaps even a four-year agreement.
A possible sticking point? Martin twice traveling his Golden Bears the 14 miles to 3,500-seat McKeon Pavilion in Moraga.
“We can talk about it,” Martin said, noncommittal. “We’ll definitely do it again, no doubt about it. Hopefully we’ll start a four-year series if they’re willing to do that. We owe it to the Bay Area.”
These programs certainly left people clamoring for more great basketball. This is exactly the kind of back-and-forth great game Bennett has envisioned for so many years for his successful mid-major program against its Pac-12 neighbor
Joe Rahon missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1.7 seconds left for Saint Mary’s, and Cal held on. “Great crowd, great game,” Bennett said. “I appreciate Cuonzo scheduling the game. It was fun, it went down to the wire. … It’s what should be going on in the Bay Area.”
Tyrone Wallace fouled Rahon near midcourt going for the ball but watched as he missed in raucous Haas Pavilion, where a crowd of 10,074 saw the Golden Bears (8-2) stay unbeaten at home with their fourth straight victory.
Boston College transfer Rahon scored 14 points, Dane Pineau had a career-best 15 rebounds and Evan Fitzner 15 for Saint Mary’s (6-1), handed its first loss in a game featuring five lead changes over the final 2 minutes, 43 seconds.
Their campuses are separated by all of 14 miles but the schools hadn’t played since Nov. 12, 2004, when Saint Mary’s won for the third time in four meetings. Before that game, the teams played only three times over the previous 16 years — with the perception that Cal, from the major conference, would have everything to lose falling to a team from a mid-major league.
Jaylen Brown made one of two free throws with 2:43 left and Pineau gave the Gaels the lead on the other end moments later. Brown then scored for the Golden Bears, who have been inconsistent since beginning the season No. 14 in the Associated Press poll.
Bird is finding his shooting touch, as shown on the winning shot.
“I haven’t seen him hit shots like that since I was in the seventh or eighth grade,” Rabb said of his fellow Northern Californian. “I knew it was going in.”