The road to Las Vegas and the Pac-12 tournament this season has been a perilous and treacherous one for these California Golden Bears this season, but after all the injuries, glitches, and nail biting finishes, Mike Montgomery’s squad have secured 4th in the conference and a first round-bye to boot.
They play on Thursday at 2:30 pm PST against the victor of Wednesday night’s battle between USC and Colorado. With USC entering the tournament dead last in 12th, expect the Bears to square off against the Buffalos a team which they beat 66-65 in an overtime thriller this past Saturday.
On that afternoon, the Bears honored seniors Jeff Powers, Richard Solomon, and Justin Cobbs prior to the game. The trio were showered with applause and fortunately for the fans, they got to witness an exhilarating match that certainly washed away the taste of Wednesday night’s loss to the Utah Utes. However, it was not rinsed away comfortably.
The Bears produced their second worst field-goal shooting performance of the season at 35.4%. In fact, the team did not hit a single field goal or three in overtime, all seven OT points came from free throws.
Despite that prerequisite for disaster, the Bears were able to make defensive stops when it counted and relied on their big three of Solomon, Kravish, and Cobbs to lift them to victory.
As is tradition with Cal this season, Cobbs was once again clutch. He scored a three at the buzzer to end the first half, sunk two free throws in the dying moments of regulation to tie the game, and did the same in overtime to send Cal victorious. Cobbs, a finalist for the Bob Cousy award which is given to the nation’s top point guard, posted another 20 + point game. He had 21 on the night.
The upperclassmen pair of Solomon and Kravish took a while to get in sync, but the duo excelled with matching double-doubles: 12 rebounds and 14 points each.
Jabari Bird also came alive and knocked down critical buckets for the Bears, including an energy boosting three pointer in the first half.
Despite the shortcomings on the stat sheet, Cal were able to tap into something no one witnessed, save for the student athletes and personnel. On Thursday after the loss to Utah, Montgomery said that the team needed to “just needed to have fun again.” And they did, in the form of laser tag. Sometimes the best way to get out of a funk, is to lighten up the mood by lighting up your teammates and coaches on a playful battlefield.
Cal simply needed a break from their frustrations, from basketball. And in turn they came back, focused, and ironically enough, have a longer break before the conference tournament.
Like Cobbs reiterated after Saturday’s overtime victory, it all boils down to the “team, team, team.”
Right now as Cal sits on the bubble of the NCAA tournament, a win against presumably Colorado on Thursday night might be just enough to give the Bears an at-large bid come selection Sunday. A semifinal win against Arizona, who the Bears upset earlier this season, would massively boost Cal’s credentials.
The Bears’ regular season unraveled toward the final stages, but they are now in position to mend it back together.