Thanks to the quirks of the Pac-12 tie breaking procedures, California took the court on Saturday with the chance to get a first round bye in next week's conference tournament in Las Vegas. The Bears finally got the job done in an exciting grinder of an afternoon gane at Haas Pavilion, defeating Colorado 66-65 in overtime in front of a noisy crowd of 9,422. Cal improved to 19-12 overall, and moved into a five-way tie for third place at 10-8.
Cal will be the fourth seed in the tournament, and will play the winner of the game between Colorado and USC.
The Bears won despite shooting just 35.4% of their shots from the field. They missed their last 10 attempts at the end of regulation and through the overtime period, but made seven of nine free throws in the extra session to secure the victory.
Justin Cobbs led the way as usual with 21 points and four assists, playing all 45 minutes. His two clutch free throws with 20.8 seconds remaining in overtime provided the margin of victory for the home team.
The Bears got double-doubles from both Richard Solomon and David Kravish, each with 14 points and 12 boards. Solomon also blocked four shots. They battled throughout the game against the bigger Colorado inside players.
Cal wings Ty Wallace, Ricky Kreklow, and Jordan Mathews shot a combined 3 for 17, but Kreklow added six assists with no turnovers. Jabari Bird struggled defensively, but contributed seven points, making one from beyond the arc.
Colorado's Xavier Johnson was the best player on the court with 24 points. Cal had trouble matching up with him all night.
After the game, Cobbs and Solomon talked about the players and coaches going on Thursday to Walnut Creek to play laser tag.
“We've been talking and going over the same things, like we've got to defend better at point of attack, we've got to block off,” said Mike Montgomery. “I just think in some ways they were struggling. We just felt we needed a day away from basketball.”
It seems that ploy worked. The effort level from Cal in this game was excellent.
“There was a lot of energy in the huddles. Nobody seemed to want to throw in the towel, nobody was down,” said Montgomery. “For a lot of teams in our league it's about how much fight you have, if you're willing to fight through stuff. For a lot of us it makes the difference between winning and losing.”
Colorado coach Tad Boyle said, “There are very few losses throughout the year where you can tell your team that you are proud of them, and you can live with the result because of the effort you made and everything that went into the game.”
"It was definitely an intense game for 45 minutes. Colorado is an excellent defensive team, and Cal had their problems on the offensive end for much of the game.
Cal fell behind by 51-42 with just under nine minutes left in regulation, but then kicked off a comeback. The Bears went on an 8-0 run to take the lead, but couldn't hold it. Cobbs drove to the bucket in the final minute but his shot was blocked and Askia Booker drove the length of the court for a layup that put the Buffaloes ahead 59-57.
Two clutch free throws from Cobbs tied it up with 29.1 seconds left, and Colorado turned it over on their final possession. Cobbs half-court heave at the buzzer drew iron and the game moved into overtime.
Colorado made the only two buckets of the extra session. A post up by Wesley Gordon and a pair of free throws by Josh Scott sandwiching a Solomon make at the line gave them a 63-60 lead.
Cobbs hit a pair from the line, and Cal got a great defensive stop. Two charity stripe makes from Kravish put the Bears up 64-63, but Booker drove in for a layup to give the Buffs the lead.
Boyle called timeout, and Cobbs missed a jumper on the ensuing possession, but the ball went out off Colorado, and the Bears had another chance.
Cobbs drove into the lane, and was fouled by Gordon on his step back jumper. He converted both free throws, and Cal needed one more big stop.
Xavier Talton missed a three, and Wallace got the rebound. He missed the front end of the one and one with 0.5 seconds to go, but Booker missed a long runner at the buzzer and Cal had survived.
As Montgomery noted, there have been earlier games where Cal could have won, but didn't get the job done. Sometimes the game comes down to a make or miss, as it did on Wednesday night against Utah. Brandon Taylor hit a couple of threes in that one and that was the difference.
Cal gets to start a new season on Thursday at 2:36 pm.
- Colorado pounded Cal on the boards, 45-35. The visitors had 14 offensive rebounds. Cal had just three offensive boards in the first half, but ended the game with 13.
- Cal had just five turnovers, matching their season low. They blocked eight shots, and had five steals.
- The Bears were six for 21 from three point land, and Colorado was six for 18.
- Cal finished 14 for 19 from the line.
- Colorado dropped to 21-10, and 10-8 in league play.