Dennis Gates, known mostly for his defensive prowess, came through with the biggest shot of his career, nailing a 3-pointer with four seconds left in regulation to lift Cal to a 76-73 win over Penn State in the championship game of the Golden Bear Classic on Saturday at Haas Pavilion.
Cal (9-1) built as much as a 10-point lead in the second half, but Penn State (4-7) kept the game close on outside shooting from guards Brandon Watkins and Sharif Chambliss. Still, the Bears managed to keep an advantage down the stretch until the Nittany Lions tied it at 73-73 on a Chambliss 3-pointer with 1:27 left.
Neither team scored on its next possession and Penn State rebounded an Amit Tamir miss with 25 seconds left to try to set up a final shot. However, Tamir pressured Nittany Lion forward Jan Jagla into a traveling call, giving the Bears a last chance with 13 seconds to go.
Shantay Legans faked penetrating into the key and dished out to Gates, who was waiting just outside the top of the circle. Gates, who finished with 15 points, sank the bucket to put Cal ahead. Penn State then tried to drive back down the court, but Gates drew a charge from Watkins with 1.4 seconds on the clock.
“Give Dennis credit. Dennis is a winner and he’s not afraid to take that shot,” Cal head coach Ben Braun said. “He was a part of two huge plays at the end of the game... one of which will probably go unnoticed.”
Cal center Solomon Hughes made 8-of-10 shots from the floor to finish with a career-high 19 points and earn tournament Most Valuable Player honors. Gates also gained a spot on the all-tournament team, which also included Watkins (19 points) and Chambliss (18) as well as Harvard’s Patrick Harvey.
Freshman forward Tamir, playing in only his second game for the Bears, added 12 points and nine rebounds, while Joe Shipp chipped in with 12 points. Braun seemed enthused about his new frontcourt rotation of Hughes, Tamir and freshman Jamal Sampson.
“Solomon was outstanding. He’s a hard worker with a great attitude. He’s a guy that wants the ball and he showed that tonight with a career-high 19 points,” Braun said. “Amit complemented Solomon real well tonight. In only his second game, we are excited about what we saw out of Amit. He really makes the people around him better.”
With the win, Cal finished its non-conference record with a perfect 9-0 mark at home. The Bears begin Pac-10 action Jan. 4 at Stanford. The Cardinal then returns the trip to Berkeley Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. in Haas Pavilion.