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WSU narrowly escapes Berkeley with 68-64 win over Cal

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Cougs earn first Bay Area sweep in nearly three decades.

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at California D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars squeaked past the California Golden Bears in Berkeley, 68-64.

WSU (14-7, 7-3 in Pac-12) dodged the late desperation punches from Cal (9-15, 2-11) as the Golden Bears fought their way back into the game late. The Golden Bears had a chance to tie or take the lead with under 10 seconds to go trailing by two, but the short floater with six seconds to go from Joel Brown missed left, allowing the Cougars to grab the rebound, hit their free throws, and leave Haas Pavilion with their first Bay Area sweep since 1993.

On paper, the Cougars were expected to handle the Golden Bears fairly easily. Especially after the Golden Bears learned that they would be without senior Andre Kelly for the rest of the season. But in typical Cal fashion, they played the Cougars very tough.

WSU came out the gates firing from deep: 18 of the Cougars first 20 points came from 3-pointers. Michael Flowers had three of those six opening treys for WSU. The Cougars’ elite defense, however, wasn’t as efficient, allowing Cal to keep up. The zone defense let up some open looks that Cal took advantage of, getting a lead up to four. Grant Anticevich pulled the weight for the depleted Cal offense, scoring 10 off the bench in the first half. Cal’s offense slowed down after the Cougars switched back to man and the Cougs took a narrow 33-31 lead into half.

The Cougars slowly built upon their halftime lead by beating Cal in the paint and continuing to hit the three ball. Tyrell Roberts knocked down his second three of the game with 7:24 to go to give WSU their largest lead of the game at 12.

That would be the last field goal made for WSU for the rest of the game. Over the next 7:24, the Cougars played their infamous disaster ball, missing eight field goals and allowing Cal to find themselves back in the ballgame. The Golden Bears chipped away while all WSU could get to fall were free throws.

Joel Brown’s layup with 1:17 to go pulled the game to within a possession for the first time since the 17:04 mark in the second half. Efe Abogidi got a shot to push the game back to a two-possession lead with two free throws. Abogidi made both but the second one was waved off due to a rare lane violation call on Abogidi for stepping across the line after he released.

Jordan Shepard got an open look from three to tie the game but couldn’t get the shot to connect. Coming out of a timeout, Cal immediately fouled Flowers with 0:31. Flowers hit both free throws and pushed the WSU lead up to five. Once again, it felt the Cougars had the game in control.

And yet again, Cal wouldn’t go down. Jalen Celestine heaved a deep desperation three and banked it in. Cal fouled Noah Williams out of the inbound. Williams, who was already having a rough game, made matters even worse when the first of his one-and-one free throws missed, giving Cal a chance to tie or win the game with the shot clock turned off. With the banked three and the missed free throw, the game had all the makings of yet another Cougar collapse.

But this time, Brown’s floater with six seconds to go missed, Flowers iced the game with a pair of free throws and WSU managed to avoid the upset with a narrow 68-64 win.

Like many other wins against Cal across all sports, it wasn’t pretty. But the win secured a huge Bay Area sweep for the Cougars and pushed their winning streak to five games. The Cougs shot the three ball very well, going 10-21 (47.6%). Flowers put four of those in with yet another brilliant performance, scoring a game-high 21 points. Abogidi had a career day, setting career highs in steals (4), his career high in points in a Pac-12 game (17) and recorded his second double double of the year.

A date with the top-10 Arizona Wildcats in Pullman on Thursday awaits the Cougs in one of the biggest games in Beasley Coliseum in the past decade.