SAN DIEGO -- Breakdowns at the end of each half spelled the difference for No. 24 Cal in a 64-63 loss to Pac-12 killer San Diego State on Sunday at Viejas Arena.
"This is one we should have had, not just could have had," sophomore guard Justin Cobbs said. "I'm devastated that we lost."
The Golden Bears (6-2) were outscored 8-0 over the final 2 minutes of the first half, pulled even twice in the second half but never regained the lead. Then, with 20 seconds left in a two-point game, Cal allowed the Aztecs (8-2) to pluck an offensive rebound off the floor, leading to two critical free throws by Chase Tapley.
"Everybody just got caught standing around. We just needed one person to be aggressive to go get that rebound," said Allen Crabbe, who led the Bears with 23 points and nine rebounds. "It's the little things that really make the difference."
The Bears played without starting forward Richard Solomon, who was suspended indefinitely Friday "for conduct contrary to athletic department and university values." Coach Mike Montgomery said the sophomore is not in trouble with the law and confirmed he will rejoin the team, adding it's "unlikely" it will be as soon as Wednesday, when the Bears face San Jose State.
"He let his teammates down," Montgomery said. "Kids are lazy and do stupid stuff. As an adult, as someone who's supposed to help kids make the right decisions, I felt like I needed to take a stand on the thing."
The Bears responded by scoring the game's first six points but couldn't maintain. They shot just 33 percent in the first half, converted just 11 of 18 free throws for the game and were outrebounded (37-35) for the first time this season without Solomon, their leading rebounder.
Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp, who entered the game averaging a combined 24.6 points, totaled just 12 points on 4-for-17 shooting.
Tapley had 25 points to lead the Aztecs, who played their sixth straight game decided by four points of fewer.
The Bears led 22-19 before being outscored 14-3 over the final six minutes of the first half. They turned the ball over four times in 12 possessions.
"We really did some things real well," Montgomery said. "We didn't play great as far as (offensive) production, but we did enough stuff defensively to give ourselves a chance. You just can't make those mistakes."
Cobbs, making his first start, had 17 points and five assists but scolded himself for turning the ball over on a 3-on-1 fastbreak with 5 minutes left in the second half.
"Those are automatic. As a point guard you have to make the right pass, and I didn't," he said.
The players said they'll welcome Solomon back, but they could have used him against the Aztecs.
"Obviously, he did something wrong. We expect more of him," Gutierrez said. "He's a real big part of the team. Of course we're disappointed."