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PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — The California Bears have struggled to score baskets, so they picked the perfect time to play the defensively challenged Washington State Cougars.
The Bears, held to 50 and 44 points the previous two games, shot 50.9 percent from the field in a 76-67 victory Thursday night at Beasley Coliseum. California snapped a six-game losing streak.
"I don't know the last time we won," California guard Tyrone Wallace said with a laugh.
Wallace scored 21 of his 26 points in the first half for the Bears (12-9, 2-6 Pac-12). Backcourt partner Jordan Mathews, Cal's second-leading scorer this season behind Wallace, scored all of his nine points after WSU forged a brief 65-64 lead with 3 minutes, 35 seconds left.
"He was just being clutch; Jordan can score in bunches," teammate Jabari Bird said.
The Cougars (9-11, 3-5) dropped their fourth straight game. DaVonte Lacy scored 24 points, and Josh Hawkinson added 18 points and 12 rebounds. No other WSU player had more than seven points.
Despite WSU's lackluster offensive effort — including 33.3 percent shooting from the field — Cougars coach Ernie Kent seemed more disturbed with his team's lax defensive play. California scored numerous easy baskets, including a number of uncontested drives to the basket by Wallace.
"They dominated our guards in the paint and that was the difference in the game," Kent said. "They were able to get a lot of second-chance opportunities."
Bird scored 12 points and tied his career high of eight rebounds. The sophomore guard moved well in his best performance since returning from a foot injury five games ago. Bird sat out 10 games, including a 69-66 home loss to Washington State that started Cal's six-game losing skid.
"I've been in a little slump lately, coming back," Bird said. "But I thought I played hard and got my teammates going a little bit."
Mathews played just four minutes in the first half after picking up an early foul and technical. Wallace sank 9 of 12 shots in the half, and 10 of 17 in the game, to make up for Mathews' absence.
"Wallace, being the great player he is, stepped it up," Lacy said. "Great players are going to do that. We have to find a way to slow him down and stop him."
"When you're playing a team that's struggled," Kent said, "one of the worst things you can do is give them an opportunity to find themselves on offense, because now all their struggles turn into positive energy and they tend to shoot it, have great confidence and get rolling on you."
California led 39-37 at the end of a tightly contested first half. An 8-0 run gave the Cougars a 65-64 lead — WSU's first lead since late in the first half — before Mathews scored nine straight Cal points during a 9-2 spurt that helped seal the outcome before 2,957 spectators.
"He did a great job of keeping his composure," California coach Cuonzo Martin said.
California: Tyrone Wallace scored 21 of the Bears' 39 points in the first half, but four teammates also scored in the half. Only four Cal players scored in their previous game, a 73-50 loss to Arizona.
Washington State: Josh Hawkinson, who averaged just 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds as a freshman last season, started the day ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring (15.1) and first in rebounding (10.7).
Freshman guard Brandon Chauca, who was averaging 2.0 points, scored a season-high 10 points for Cal.
California visits Washington on Sunday.
Washington State hosts Stanford on Saturday.
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