LOS ANGELES - The Pac-10's best free-throw shooter wouldn't miss, couldn't miss.
Or could he, on purpose?
With Cal trailing by three with 4.4 seconds left in what would be a 79-75 loss to Washington at the Pac-10 tournament championship game Saturday, Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle stepped to the free-throw line.
A 93 percent free-throw shooter, there was no way the point guard could miss one - except on purpose
When 7-foot-3-inch behemoth Max Zhang checked into the game, however, it was clear the seldom-used Chinese center was on the floor at Staples Center to rebound.
Randle made the first shot.
The minute the official handed him the ball for the second free throw, Randle fired it quickly at the front of the rim - the basketball equivalent of an onside kick.
"Oddly enough," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said, "it looked like it might have worked."
The ball landed in the hands of Cal forward Theo Robertson. Then the whistle sounded.
Cal forward Jamal Boykin, who had maybe played the best game of his career, jumped into the lane early.
Montgomery said "you can roll the dice" on trying to miss because the Golden Bears needed to commit two fouls to put the 24-9 Huskies in the bonus and at the free-throw line.
After the whistle, though, that's just what the Bears had to do - down by two, not one. Washington got the ball, made two free throws and won.
The victory ensured the Huskies an automatic NCAA tournament berth, and likely meant the Pac-10 will see both Saturday's participants in the Big Dance.
"I'm going to be able to sleep tonight," said UW forward Quincy Pondexter, who finished with a team-high 18 points. "Finally.
"We've been going to sleep following 'SportsCenter' every day. At the end of the day, we told each other that if we handle business, we don't need a committee to decide if we're good enough."
Coach Lorenzo Romar thought the Huskies "had done enough to probably get in" to the NCAA tournament, but he had seen enough good teams left out on Selection Sunday to be concerned.
"Thank goodness these guys made it happen and left no doubt," he said.
Of the astounding 22 lead changes Saturday, none was more important than Elston Turner's three-pointer for Washington that broke a 68-all tie with 3:22 left. It was a shocking counterpunch after the Golden Bears had put together a stunning rally.
Trailing 61-52, Cal rattled off 14 consecutive points, seven from Boykin, to take a five-point lead. Boykin finished with 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting.
Huskies forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning made a layup with 5:40 remaining to cut the lead to three, and Venoy Overton made a three-pointer to tie the game at 68.
The Huskies raced ahead 73-68 with 2:51 left before Patrick Christopher's three-pointer cut it to two. The Huskies led by six with 50.3 seconds left when Randle's three-pointer cut it to three.
A Nikola Knezevic steal gave the Golden Bears the ball, down by three.
With Randle dribbling at the top of the key, Turner poked the ball away and across midcourt. A late whistle charged him with a reaching foul, sending the automatic Randle to the free-throw line, where he missed the second shot intentionally.
As a result, there is little doubt how many Pac-10 teams will hear their names called on Selection Sunday today.
Arizona State and Washington entered the Pac-10 tournament as candidates for the Big Dance.
The Huskies emerged as the pick.
"Coming into this week," Pondexter said, "we all collectively had a lot to prove to people."