Right about now, UNLV is wishing that the Selection Committee had found a way to slot California into the 11th seed spot where they were supposed to be instead of dropping them to the #12 line for logistical reasons. The #12 Bears upset the favored #5 seed Runnin' Rebels 64-61 at HP Pavilion in San Jose before a roaring capacity crowd on Thursday.
“Well, we're thrilled, obviously,” said coach Mike Montgomery. “I think that the kids really had a proper attitude coming into this. I think that probably playing them the first time did help us mentally, just based on the fact that we did compete with them and had a chance to win.”
Cal slowed the game down with their 1-2-2 zone defense that they played for most of the game. “I think the zone bothered them,” noted Montgomery. And, they executed their offense well, especially in the second half when they converted 14 of 29 attempts (48.3%).
The zone also helped control UNLV star Anthony Bennett. He finished with 15, but had just three points in the first half, as Cal bracketed him with a big and the wing defender on his side.
Junior guard Allen Crabbe led Cal with 19 points and nine rebounds. Justin Cobbs had 13, with six assists and just two turnovers. Senior post Robert Thurman went for 12 points on six for six, all of them dunks. During one second half stretch, Thurman scored eight consecutive points for Cal.
Cal jumped out to a 7-0 lead to start the game, but Vegas started to knock down some threes and quickly erased Cal's advantage. It was 17-14 UNLV when both teams went cold and there was no scoring for almost three minutes. The Rebels took a late three-point lead, 28-25 when Bryce Dejean-Jones stole the ball from Crabbe and fed Anthony Marshall for a dunk.
Cal tied it at 28 at the half on a Tyrone Wallace free throw and a jumper by David Kravish. UNLV was five for 11 on three-point shots, but just six for 20 on two point shots. Cal shot it at 40%, and UNLV made just 32.2% of their attempts.
Montgomery managed Crabbe's time with a couple of fouls, and got solid production from Richard Solomon (nine points and five boards.)
Cal came out of the locker room after the break and immediately took control of the game. “We told ourselves before we went out, the first five minutes were going to be the most important starting off the half,” said Crabbe. “I felt like we really took them out of their rhythm in our zone.”
Cal started the second half 9-3 and opened a quick six point lead as Crabbe scored two buckets. UNLV tied it at 37 when Katin Reinhardt hit the Rebels lone three of the second half.
The Rebels were then held without a field goal for the next 11 and a half minutes, as Cal took at 52-44 lead. UNLV missed 16 consecutive shots before Moser scored on a put-back to cut Cal's lead to six.
Thurman slammed home a pair of dunks to keep Cal's lead at eight with four minutes on the clock. Vegas got hoops from Mike Moser and Bennett to cut the lead to four, but Crabbe converted two free throws with 2:24 on the clock.
Following a miss and a make at the free throw line by Dejean-Jones, Solomon came through with a thunderous dunk on a feed from Cobbs - with less than two minutes remaining.
At that point, Cal started missing free throws, and made things a little too interesting. Cobbs and Crabbe each missed the front end of a one and one, and then Wallace missed a pair.
Bennett converted an old-fashioned three-point play with 0:14.4 to go, and suddenly it was 60-58. Cobbs made the first three throw to put the Bears up by three, but after Montgomery called his final timeout, Cobbs missed the second, and it was 61-58.
Unlike in last week's loss to Utah, Montgomery decided to foul with a three-point lead. In fact, they did it twice. With a tick under ten seconds to go, Crabbe gave the foul. Anthony Marshall missed one of the free throws, but Cobbs missed one of two so the lead was still just three.
Cal fouled again to prevent the possibility of a game-tying three, and Marshall made both with 0:6.5 left to make it 62-61. The Bears got the ball in under pressure and UNLV fouled Crabbe with just under two seconds to go, and he made them both to secure the victory. Moser turned the ball over on a long upcourt pass, and Solomon missed two more at the line for the final margin of three.
Cal did many things well, but they were a disappointing seven for 16 from the line, and it could have cost them badly. Still it was a great performance by the Bears. They played hard for the entire game, even when they were not efficient. Their zone defense was very effective, just as it was in the upset of Arizona in Tucson.
Monty summed it up: “We played really hard, which was something we have done off and on, not all the time, but we played really hard.”
The Bears will face the winner of the Syracuse versus Montana game on Saturday in San Jose in the third round. Game time is yet to be announced.
- Cal stayed even on the boards, with Vegas grabbing 42 boards to 41 for Cal.
- Cal blocked five shots, three by David Kravish. Kravish also had six points and nine rebounds and defended well.
- The Bears are 21-11. UNLV finished the season at 25-10.