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Basketball: What Bears need to get title share

A humorous moment after Cal’s win over Colorado on Saturday afternoon:

Coach Mike Montgomery was asked if he planned to tune in to the Arizona-UCLA game on TV a bit later.

“There are only two games that mean anything to me right now — our game against Stanford and Oregon’s game at Colorado,” he said.

Oops.

It slipped Monty’s mind that UCLA also sits one game ahead of the Bears in the loss column of the Pac-12 standings, not just Oregon.

Cal got no help Saturday evening from Arizona, which lost 74-69 at UCLA. That pushed the Bruins into a tie for first with the Ducks at 12-4.

Cal now resides alone in third place at 12-5. Arizona has slipped to fourth at 11-6.

The Bears have clinched a top-four finish, which is big because it means they won’t have to begin play in the Pac-12 tournament until the quarterfinal round on Thursday, March 14 in Las Vegas.

Cal still can earn a piece of its second conference crown in four years if the right pieces fall into place. In a nutshell, Cal must win its finale and the other two each need to lose once for the Bears to get a share of the title. 

So which games will Montgomery — and all Cal fans — be watching this week as the regular-season conference schedule ends?

— CAL: It starts — and could finish — with the Bears’ home finale on Wednesday against rival Stanford. Tipoff is 8 p.m. and the game will be aired on ESPN2. Stanford beat the Bears 69-59 back on Jan. 19, before Cal began its torrid streak of nine wins in 10 games. If the Bears can avenge that loss, they’ve done their part.

— OREGON: Has two road games left, and Thursday’s trip to Colorado provides Cal fans with their best hope the Ducks will lose. UO treks to 10th-place Utah on Saturday. CU is 11-2 at its mile-high home, although motivation could be less now that it no longer can climb into a top-4 finish.

— UCLA: Also hits the road, for games Wednesday at Washington State and Saturday morning at Washington. Can’t imagine the Bruins stumbling against the last-place Cougars, but an 11 a.m. tip against the erratic but still-capable Huskies could be a stumbling block. 

Tiebreaker scenarios: Here’s the good news — should the Bears finish in any combination of ties for the title, they would win the tiebreaker to earn the No. 1 seed into the Pac-12 tournament. All teams involved still would claim a share of the championship; the tiebreaker only impacts seeding for the conference tournament.

Cal would win a tiebreaker vs. Oregon by virtue of its 2-0 season sweep. The Bears split two games vs. UCLA, but would win the tiebreaker because the next step in the process is record vs. the next team in the standings, which would be Oregon. And Cal swept the Ducks.

Likewise, Cal would win a tiebreaker if all three teams finished at 13-5 because its combined 3-1 record against the other two is better than either the Ducks or Bruins can claim.

Jeff Faraudo