At the end of a season of exceeding expectations, it was a result that might have been predicted back in November that brought the first slate under Ernie Kent to a close, as the California Golden Bears unceremoniously dumped the WSU Cougars from the Pac-12 Tournament with an 84-59 blowout in the opening round.
If you're into narrative, you might say it was poetic that the season ended as it began: With dreadful defense and even worse shooting. Despite all the gains made this season, these still were two things the Cougs could never quite completely escape, and they allowed the Golden Bears to score those 84 points in just 62 possessions (for a whopping 1.35 points per) while shooting below 50 percent on twos and just 2-of-12 from behind the arc themselves.
Each of the Bears' five starters had his way with the Cougs, but it was Tyrone Wallace (early) and David Kravish (late) who had the biggest impact. Wallace finished with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists while generally annoying WSU all over the floor, and Kravish avenged two weak performances against WSU during the regular season with 25 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. In particular, Kravish's 15 points in the second half put some distance between Cal and WSU.
The key stretch of the game came at the end of the first half. Both teams had struggled to score with regularity in the first 15 minutes, playing with a raggedness that often marks loser out contests -- teams know what's on the line, and it shows. On WSU's end of the floor, the Cougs struggled to maintain their composure and turned the ball over with alarming frequency; meanwhile, Cal simply struggled to make shots, but was able to stay afloat in a seesaw affair by crashing the offensive glass.
WSU trailed by just two with 3:40 to go in the first half after Jordan Railey powered a dunk through a Kingsley Okoroh foul. But he would miss the free throw, and Cal would end up finishing the half on an 11-2 run, the final five points of which were scored after offensive rebounds, including a 3-point dagger by Jabari Bird with just a couple of seconds to go.
The Golden Bears didn't shoot a lot of 3s, but when they did, they made them count, shooting 8-of-12 from beyond the arc.
The seniors who were so instrumental in beating Colorado to close out the regular season largely struggled. Railey had another solid game against Cal's soft interior defense (12 points on 6-of-10), but DaVonte Lacy had a hard time even getting his hands on the ball (9 points, 4-of-11), and the torrid shooting that caused Dexter Kernich-Drew to have a sensational finish to the year was gone at the MGM Grand (4 points, 0-for-3 on 3s).
On the positive side, Ike Iroegbu continued to assert himself with a team-leading 17 points on 6-of-10 with 3 rebounds and 2 steals, and Josh Hawkinson had yet another double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds).
Truth be told, it was a major bummer to end the season this way. Lacy will go down as one of the school's greats, but he was overcome with emotion at the end of the game, perhaps at the thought that his college career came to an end -- a CBI bid for the 13-18 Cougs would be unlikely -- with such a poor individual performance. And when one considers the gains this team made this season, exceeding expectations by miles and miles, a 25-point loss seems unjust.
But nobody said results were always fair. Instead, we'll all have to hold onto the belief that this program is headed in the right direction under Kent.