Laboring badly on an injured left hip, sophomore wing Patrick Christopher re-entered the game with Cal trailing by 15 points with 10 minutes to play Thursday night.
It was the defining image of a night that reeked of desperation. Cal never led in a 70-49 loss to Washington State.
It might have ended any discussion of a possible NCAA Tournament berth for the Bears unless they somehow win the Pac-10 tournament.
The popular belief is that a 9-9 Pac-10 record would garner a bid to the dance, but the chances seem slim that Cal will defeat Washington in the home finale Saturday and then sweep UCLA and USC in Los Angeles.
In fact, if the Bears (15-11, 6-9 Pac-10) lose to the Huskies on Saturday, they would fall into sole possession of ninth place.
"Every time we go into a game, we know it's the most important game of the year," senior center DeVon Hardin said. "I just wish we'd play like it more often."
It may not have mattered against No. 22 Washington State (22-6, 10-6), which dominated both ends of the court and staved off every emotional attempt at a rally by Cal. After trailing 12-10 seven minutes into the game, the Bears couldn't get closer.
"If you're not at your best, they'll expose you," Cal coach Ben Braun said.
Cal closed the first half on a 6-0 run to cut Washington State's lead to 31-26, but the Cougars ran off the first six points of the second.
When sophomore forward Jamal Boykin cut the Cougars' lead to 39-31 four minutes into the second half, he pounded the floor at midcourt.
But point guard Jerome Randle, after stealing an inbounds pass, missed back-to-back layups that could have made for a manageable comeback.
"I thought we played frustrated when we got down," Braun said. "We're frustrated with our turnovers and that we settled for three-pointers. I would be frustrated with this if it was the middle of the season or now."
After Christopher's re-entry, which lasted only one and a half minutes and left him questionable for Saturday's game, Washington State responded with five straight points for a 62-42 lead with 8:45 remaining.
Coming off a season-low 34 percent shooting performance in a loss to Arizona on Saturday, the Cougars shot 66.7 percent from the floor in the second half and 53.1 percent overall against Cal.
The Bears didn't limit any of Washington State's mainstays, allowing four players—Taylor Rochestie (18 points), Kyle Weaver (17), Derrick Low (15) and Aron Baynes (10)—to score in double figures as the Cougars showed great patience on offense and seemingly always made the extra pass for open shots.
The mismatch was obvious on defense, too.
Washington State, which is ranked third in the nation in points allowed, limited Cal to 36.7 percent shooting from the floor, including 11.1 percent from three-point range. The Bears had nearly as many turnovers (16) as field goals (18), with the Cougars turning the miscues into 21 points.
"If you commit turnovers against Washington State, it's like a double because they'll make you pay," Braun said.
In the first meeting, Hardin sat out with a viral infection while Anderson and Boykin used their athleticism to dominate in the paint.
Washington State had trouble containing Anderson, who had 27 points and nine rebounds, and Boykin, making his first start, overmatched Baynes, who was pulled midway through the second half.
None of that was true this time.
Baynes scored eight points in the first half, and though Anderson scored a team-high 17 points, no other Cal player joined him in double figures.
Christopher, the Bears' second-leading scorer, was held to a season-low two points, and Anderson, Christopher and senior forward Eric Vierneisel shot a combined 8-of-28 from the floor, including 1-of-10 from three-point range.
This is the first time in eight seasons that one of the teams hasn't swept the series, but the other trends held.
Cal lost its fourth in the last five games and fell to 2-6 at home in Pac-10 play. Washington State won its fourth consecutive road game, winning 10 games on the road this season for the first time since 1946-47.