BERKELEY, Calif. — With the Pac-12’s top three teams already creating some separation from the rest of the pack, Jabari Bird realizes the importance of California keeping pace.
That was even more significant on a night when the Golden Bears had their worst shooting performance in nearly a month.
“At the end of the day, in the moment, as long as we win I’m happy,” said Bird after scoring 16 points in California’s 69-59 win over Washington on Thursday night. “We will look at film and see where we can do better but as of right now the W is the biggest thing for me.”
The Bears (12-5, 3-2 Pac-12) shot 44.6 percent over their previous four games but struggled in the first half when they missed 25 of 39 attempts.
Things turned around in the second half when Bird scored 10 and California shot 44 percent. Still, the Bears didn’t pull away until Stephen Domingo made two free throws and Ivan Rabb followed with a score off an offensive rebound and a jumper to make it 65-57 with 2:22 to play.
After Dickerson’s bucket, Charlie Moore and Rabb each made a pair of free throws in the final minute to seal it.
Rabb finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds, his eighth double-double of the season.
“Here’s a guy that’s getting double-teamed every time he touches the ball so now, if he doesn’t see the double, it’s understanding when to get the ball,” California coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Once he settles in and kind of figures out how they’re defending him, he makes plays. If you don’t double him, it’s going to be a tough night for you.”
Washington (8-8, 1-3) trailed by six at halftime and 10 three minutes into the second half before responding with a quick 10-point surge to tie the game with 11:48 remaining.
The game stayed tight until the Huskies went cold in the last 4½ minutes and missed six of their final even shots.
“Our inability to make the free throws and giving them second-chance points probably was the difference in the game,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We were not patient enough to attack that type of defense tonight. They had a lot to do with that.”
A layup by David Crisp at 4:35 pulled Washington within 59-57 but the Huskies didn’t score again until a layup by Noah Dickerson with 1:48 to play. That was the only UW basket in the final seven attempts.
The Golden Bears made 11 of 15 free throws in the second half.
Crisp led the Huskies with 16 points and Dickerson had 13 points and nine rebounds.
Washington: With three conference losses already, Romar’s team is on the verge of being an afterthought in the Pac-12 title chase before it really begins. . Romar remains three wins shy of 300 with the Huskies. . Dickerson’s rebounds matched his highest over the past four games.
California: The Bears continue to have problems putting teams away when they have a lead but still rode the momentum from their win over USC into a critical conference win at home that keeps them in the thick of things. . Rabb has eight double-doubles in the 15 games he’s played in this season and continues to show benefits from putting off the NBA for a year. His game is much more well-rounded and he’s stronger on the boards. . California shot just 35.9 percent in the first half and 39.1 for the game.
DOING IT WITH D
Washington leading scorer Markelle Fultz was held 10 points below his average and was limited to 12 on a season-low 3 of 15 shooting. It’s only the second time this year that Fultz has been held below 13 points. “Make sure he sees all five guys at all times, especially when he’s in transition,” Bird said of the Bears’ plan against Fultz. “I think by the end of the game it wore him down.”
Washington heads to Stanford on Saturday evening.
California stays home for an afternoon game against Washington State on Saturday.