SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP)—Ramon Sessions usually is content to let his Nevada teammates be the stars.
When California pushed the Wolf Pack to a tight finish at the Pete Newell Challenge, the point guard found that the spotlight fits him pretty well.
Sessions scored 12 of his 19 points in the final 5 minutes, and No. 24 Nevada got off to its best start since 1951 with a 77-71 victory over California on Sunday night.
Marcelus Kemp scored 20 points and Sessions scored 10 straight for Nevada after Cal rallied to tie it. The Wolf Pack improved to 7-0 for the first time in 55 years by surviving the Golden Bears’ tremendous second-half rally, which erased a 14-point deficit.
“I wouldn’t say (I) took over,” said Sessions, who also had six assists. “We were just running our offense, and my teammates got me the ball. … Coach is always saying that big leads never last in our game. We just had to lock up and defend in our end, and we were able to come out with a win.”
Sessions hit three short shots and six free throws down the stretch to keep his club on top. Nick Fazekas added 12 points and 16 rebounds while playing through a rib injury and DeVon Hardin’s tough defense in the schools’ first meeting since the 1991-92 season.
Nevada coach Mark Fox saw several disappointing aspects to the win, but also admired his players’ resilience on the road against an unfamiliar foe.
“We have more guys on our team that can score besides Nick and Marcelus,” Fox said. “One thing that my team has not done is defend well with a lead. Cal made that run, and that got our attention. I was most proud of how our team defended in the final minutes.”
Ayinde Ubaka scored 16 points and Hardin had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Golden Bears (6-2), whose five-game winning streak was snapped. After winning the Great Alaska Shootout and beating Kansas State last month, Cal put up another impressive effort against the powerful Wolf Pack, including a 20-6 run after falling behind 57-43 with 13 minutes to play.
But after Hardin tied it on a dunk with 4:23 left, Sessions made two layups to put Nevada up 69-65 while Cal went scoreless on five straight possessions.
“We had a chance to surge ahead, and I think we were so excited that we rushed our shots,” Cal coach Ben Braun said. “Those guys get great balance, and that’s what helped them to finish the way they did.”
Sessions then hit his free throws late, and Nevada delighted the thousands of rowdy fans who made the four-hour drive from Reno, Nev., to support the Wolf Pack, who are 25-5 on the road over the last two seasons.
Nevada won its eighth straight road contest and earned its 21st victory in 22 games overall, with the only loss coming in the NCAA tournament against Montana.
Fazekas, the WAC’s two-time player of the year and the nation’s leading rebounder this fall, had an entertaining battle down low with Hardin, Cal’s talented junior center.
Nevada went up 40-25 at halftime with a 9-2 surge in the closing minutes, then took an 18-point lead on Kyle Shiloh’s 3-pointer to open the second half.
“We came out timid, something we said we weren’t going to do,” Ubaka said. “That’s why we were down 15. We finally got aggressive in the second half. It’s something that we have to address. This was the first real, live good team that we’ve played, and it showed.”
Shiloh, who finished with 14 points, scored 10 in the first 7 minutes after halftime, but Cal put together a 13-4 run midway through the half to cut Nevada’s lead to 61-56.
Cal then tied it with seven straight points, capped by Theo Robertson’s tying 3-pointer with 5:15 left.
Stanford beat Texas Tech 70-59 in the opening matchup of the 10th annual edition of the Challenge. The 91-year-old Newell, who watched both games from courtside, won an NIT title with San Francisco, an NCAA championship with Cal and the 1960 Olympic gold medal for the U.S. team.