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ASU Basketball: Sun Devils drop regular season finale to Cal, 68-65

The Golden Bears dealt Arizona State a tough loss to close the regular season on Saturday.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

For a few brief moments on Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena, it was tough to tell which team had five wins in Pac-12 play, and which team would be playing in the NCAA Tournament two weeks from now.

It was the Arizona State Sun Devils who were shooting the ball with confidence and playing in-your-face defense. It was the Sun Devils who were tracking down every loose ball and boxing out on every missed shot.

But by the end of then night, it was the California Golden Bears who emerged victorious from one of the most intense games of the 2015-16 season.

Sparked by an 11-2 run midway through the second half, the visitors from Berkeley escaped with a 68-65 win to push Arizona State's (15-16, 5-13 Pac-12) record back below .500 to end the regular season.

"I thought we gave a winning effort," said head coach Bobby Hurley after the game. "We let them climb back in and you can't afford that in a game like this."

Point guard Tyrone Wallace ended up leading California (21-10, 12-6) with 24 points in the win, but three other Golden Bears finished in double figures. Senior center Eric Jacobsen led the maroon and gold with 20 points in the final home game of his career.

"It's sad," Jacobsen said while trying to hold back tears. "This place has been great to me."

The game didn't start out great for Arizona State, which found itself in an eight-point hole halfway through the opening stanza. Its fortunes changed, however, with just under nine minutes to go when Savon Goodman completed an old fashioned three-point play. The and-one initiated a 12-2 run to give the Sun Devils a lead, and a small 7-2 binge to close the half gave them a 33-28 lead at the break.

The second half started just as well as the first half ended, as Hurley's team scored the first five points out of the locker rooms to force a timeout from Cuonzo Martin. The Golden Bears settled down after that, eventually climbing all the way back to 48-47 advantage with 8:46 remaining.

From then on, neither team would hold a lead of more than seven points.

The game's biggest possession came around the four and a half minute mark, when Kodi Justice briefly lost Wallace on a baseline juke move. Wallace had just enough room before Justice recovered to hit a step back three-pointer, giving California a 55-52 lead that it would never relinquish.

Arizona State pulled within two with 90 seconds remaining, and was a stop away from getting the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead. That's when things got wild.

Jacobsen was whistled for a blocking foul on Jaylen Brown, who appeared to knock the big man down while he was still in legal guarding position. An incensed Hurley ran down the sideline in disbelief at the call but managed to not pick up a technical from the patient officiating crew.

"Usually I would say that I have to go review it and look at it again, but I did look at it on the monitor up there," Hurley said. "So, I saw what happened. And that's all I'm going to say."

The game became a battle of which team could make more free throws at that point — a game the Golden Bears would win. Wallace, Jabari Bird, and Ivan Rabb combined to make five free throws in a 20 second stretch to make the score 67-60, effectively ending any chances of an ASU comeback.

A 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds left by Gerry Blakes pulled his team to within 68-65, but by then it was too little, too late.

"They are playing their very best," said Hurley on Cal. "They are an excellent basketball team that is built to go pretty far because of how good their defense is."

In a lot of ways, the rebuilding job that Martin has done in Berkeley could parallel one that is coming with Hurley and company. Martin's team finished 18-15 in his first season a year ago, and thanks to a terrific recruiting class has the Golden Bears entering next week's Pac-12 tournament with a No. 3 seed.

The Sun Devils could get another shot at California in the tournament's quarterfinal round, but they will first need a win against sixth-seeded Oregon State on Wednesday night in Las Vegas. That game will start at 9:30 p.m. (MT) and is being televised by the Pac-12 Networks.

ASU needs at least a couple of victories in Vegas to keep their NIT hopes alive, while four wins would give them the Pac-12's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

"We have got to regroup as a team," Jacobsen said. "It's a new season starting next week."