Saint Mary's Stefan Gonzalez, right, looks to pass away from California's Kingsley Okoroh, left, and Jabari Bird in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Ben Margot
December 12, 2015

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) Cuonzo Martin is ready to talk to Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett about a regular series between the Bay Area programs, perhaps even a four-year agreement.

A possible sticking point? Martin twice traveling his Golden Bears the 14 miles to 3,500-seat McKeon Pavilion in Moraga.

''We can talk about it,'' Martin said, noncommittal. ''We'll definitely do it again, no doubt about it. Hopefully we'll start a four-year series if they're willing to do that. We owe it to the Bay Area.''

These programs certainly left people clamoring for more great basketball Saturday, when Cal held off its East Bay neighbor 63-59 after Jabari Bird's go-ahead 3-pointer with 15.2 seconds left.

This is exactly the kind of back-and-forth great game Bennett has envisioned for so many years for his successful mid-major Saint Mary's program against its Pac-12 neighbor California.

Everything but the result, that is.

Joe Rahon missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1.7 seconds left for Saint Mary's, and California held on to beat the Bay Area neighbor Gaels 63-59 on Saturday as the programs renewed their rivalry for the first time in more than a decade.

''Great crowd, great game,'' Bennett said. ''I appreciate Cuonzo scheduling the game. It was fun, it went down to the wire. ... It's what should be going on in the Bay Area.''

Tyrone Wallace fouled Rahon near midcourt going for the ball but watched as he missed in raucous Haas Pavilion, where a crowd of 10,074 saw the Golden Bears (8-2) stay unbeaten at home with their fourth straight victory.

Boston College transfer Rahon scored 14 points, Dane Pineau had a career-best 15 rebounds and Evan Fitzner 15 for Saint Mary's (6-1), handed its first loss in a game featuring five lead changes over the final 2 minutes, 43 seconds.

Pineau made a key layin with 2:24 remaining and secured an offensive rebound in the final minute for the Gaels, but Ivan Rabb blocked a shot by Rahon with 24 seconds left.

Rabb had 15 points and 11 rebounds and Jordan Mathews scored 13.

Their campuses are separated by all of 14 miles but the schools hadn't played since Nov. 12, 2004, when Saint Mary's won for the third time in four meetings. Before that game, the teams played only three times over the previous 16 years - with the perception that Cal, from the major conference, would have everything to lose falling to a team from a mid-major league.

Jaylen Brown made one of two free throws with 2:43 left and Pineau gave the Gaels the lead on the other end moments later. Brown then scored for the Golden Bears, who have been inconsistent since beginning the season No. 14 in the Associated Press poll.

Emmett Naar, the Gaels' leading scorer at 16.5 points per game, was limited to three points on 1-for-6 shooting to go with eight assists.

Bird's tip-in dunk with 7:01 left for Cal tied the game at 50 and the teams traded misses before Calvin Hermanson's go-ahead 3-pointer.

Bird is finding his shooting touch.

''I haven't seen him hit shots like that since I was in the seventh or eighth grade,'' Rabb said of his fellow Northern Californian. ''I knew it was going in.''

The Gaels used an 8-0 run early in the second half to pull back within 39-37. Saint Mary's, a longtime top team in the West Coast Conference alongside perennial power Gonzaga, is picked to finish fourth in the conference.

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TIP-INS

Saint Mary's: The Gaels began a stretch of five games in 12 days, but don't have to leave the Bay Area and go as far as Santa Clara. ... Saint Mary's began 6-0 for the second time in three seasons and fourth time under 15th-year coach Randy Bennett. ... The Gaels already beat Cal rival Stanford, 78-61 on Nov. 22. It marks the first time they played both opponents in the same season since doing so in a four-day span in 1986.

Cal: The Bears were outrebounded 37-33. ... Oakland Athletics manager and former Cal baseball player Bob Melvin was back in his usual courtside seat after missing a game earlier in the week to attend baseball's winter meetings in Nashville.

PLAYERS-ONLY MEETING

Cal's players came together and realized they needed to chat, and did so immediately after struggling in Wednesday's 74-62 win against Incarnate Word. The Bears met with their coaches Thursday, too.

''We knew we had to talk about something,'' Rabb said.

Bird appreciates how everybody realized something had to change for Cal to become the elite team it expects to be.

''That's scary if only one guy sees it,'' Bird said.

UP NEXT

Saint Mary's: Hosts Cal Poly on Monday.

Cal: Hosts Coppin State next Saturday.

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