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Basketball: Bears face ASU with big stakes

* Saturday at Tempe, Ariz., 3 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

Cal plays its most important game of the season on Saturday afternoon at Arizona State.

At least until next Wednesday at home against Utah.

The Bears have three games left on the Pac-12 Conference regular-season schedule and they may need to win two of them to assure themselves an NCAA tournament bid, presuming they don’t win the league tournament and its automatic bid.

They close out next week in Berkeley against Utah and Colorado, two teams better at home than on the road, but good teams nonetheless.

Cal currently sits in a four-way tie for third place at 9-6, a logjam that also includes Arizona State, Colorado and Stanford.

By several measures, the Bears currently reside at the bottom of that tangle:

– Their RealTimeRPI computer ranking is worst of the bunch: 26. Colorado; 31. ASU; 42. Stanford; 49. Cal.

– Their 18-10 overall record is worst among the four.

– Their current projected NCAA tournament seed, according to Jerry Palm of CBS Sports, is worst of the group: ASU is a No. 8, both Colorado and Stanford are No. 9, and Cal is a No. 11.

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Basketball: Austrian 7-foot prospect undecided

The general manager of an Austrian first-division team said 7-foot teen-age prospect Jakob Poeltl, who visited Cal in early February, “will wait a few more weeks before he makes a decision.”

I exchanged emails this week with Helmut Niederhofer, general manager of the Arkadia Traiskirchen Lions of the Austrian A Bundesliga, who gave high praise to Poeltl.

“He has great potential,” Niederhofer said. “His biggest strength is his brain. He learns incredibly fast and has a great presence on the court.”

Niederhofer said that because Poeltl, an 18-year-old native of Vienna, attends classes during the day, he practices only in the evenings.

In 2011, Poeltl was named MVP of the Austrian U16 national championships.

Poeltl visited Cal, Arizona and Utah on his trip through the U.S. If he signs with Cal, he would arrive on campus next fall and be part of the 2014-15 team.

The 225-pound power forward averages 12.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots for Arkadia, and shoots a remarkable 72.3 percent (81 for 112) from the floor. He has four double-doubles.

Poeltl scored a season-high 24 points in an Oct. 26 game vs, Gussing and had 18 on Oct. 7 against Zepter Vienna. In his most recent game, Feb. 16, Peoltl had 11 points and 10 rebounds in a 102-55 win over UBSC Graz.

The Lions play next on Sunday against Furstenfield.

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Women’s basketball: Gray’s 43 points, Boyd’s triple-double power Bears to OT victory

Reshanda Gray scored a career-high 43 points to go with 16 rebounds and Brittany Boyd compiled a triple-double as the No. 18 Cal women held off Washington State 75-68 in overtime at Berkeley.

Their seventh straight victory keeps the Bears (21-7, 13-4) alone in second place. Cal can clinch second and the No. 2 seed for the Pac-12 tournament with a victory over Washington in their regular-season finale Saturday at Haas Pavilion.

Boyd scored eight of her 13 points in overtime. She also had a career-high 14 rebounds and 11 assists for the second triple-double in school history.

Gray shot 17 for 20 from the field — an astonishing 85 percent — and pocketed her seventh consecutive double-double, her 14th on the season.

The rest of the Cal team combined to shoot 7 for 49, just 14.3 percent. The Bears were 0 for 9 from the 3-point arc.

 

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Basketball: Arizona game thread

Click here for our game story.

FINAL SCORE: Arizona 87, Cal 59. The No. 3 Wildcats (26-2, 12-3) hand the Bears (18-10, 9-6) their worst loss of the season, avenging their loss at Berkeley on Feb. 1 that knocked Arizona out of No. 1. Worst news for Cal: Freshman Jordan Mathews injured his left ankle or foot with 1:22 left.

After Stanford’s loss at Arizona State, there is now a four-way tie for third place, with Cal, ASU, Stanford and Colorado all 9-6.

Cobbs was Cal’s only player in double figures with 12 points, and he had merely an average game made worse by a technical foul. The Bears made 10 of their first 16 shots, then were 14 for 39 the rest of the way. They fell behind by 20 early in the second half, but got back to 55-47 when Tyrone Wallace made a 3-pointer with 12:20 left. Cal was outscored 32-12 the rest of the way.

Arizona clobbered the Bears on the boards, 42-25. Cal had 14 turnovers. The Bears shot 4 for 16 from the 3-point line. That’s a lot of bad there.

Nick Johnson, who had just four points in Berkeley, finished with 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists. PG T.J. McConnell had 13 points and six assists. Aaron Gordon scored 13 points and made 5 of 6 FTs, earning big cheers from the McKale crowd that recalls him making just 2 of 11 in a recent game. And Rondae Hollis-Jefferson came off the bench to provide 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Arizona not only left no doubt it’s far superior to Cal, it made a strong argument it’s as good as any team in the country. ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi at halftime projected the Cats as the No. 1 overall seed into the NCAA tournament.

And Cal’s postseason prospects? Well, this doesn’t help, but the Bears probably still need to win just two of their remaining three regular-season games to be in good shape. A win at Arizona State on Saturday would be huge for them.

They’ll have to be substantially better than they were in this one.

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Swimming: Franklin up for sportswoman of year

Cal swimmer Missy Franklin, who won a record six gold medals at last summer’s world championships, is among six nominees for the 15th annual Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year.

The freshman from Centennial, Colo., who won four gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics, joins a list of high-profile female athletes nominated for the award.

Also up for Laureus honors are German soccer star Nadine Angerer, the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year; Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, winner of three sprint gold medals at the world track and field championships; Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, winner of the world title; Slovenia skier Tina Maze, the overall World Cup champion; American tennis star Serena Williams, winner of the French Open and U.S. Open titles.

It’s the second straight year Franklin was nominated.

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Basketball: Two weeks to go, little resolved

There are two weeks left in the Pac-12 regular-season race and although Arizona appears to have a firm grip on first place, there are critical issues left unsettled.

The top four finishers earn first-round byes in the Pac-12 tournament and at least five more teams have legitimate designs on those spots.

“With the four games left,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said, “some people have tougher jobs than others, but eveyrone’s got a chance.”

Here’s a look at the upper half of the conference and what lies ahead for each team:

* ARIZONA (12-2, 25-2)
vs. Cal, Wednesday, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
vs. Stanford, Sunday, 5 p.m. (ESPNU)
at Oregon State, Wednesday, March 5, 8 p.m. (FoxSports1)
at Oregon, Saturday, March 8, 1 p.m. (CBS)

* UCLA (10-4, 21-6)
vs. Oregon, Thursday, 8 p.m. (FoxSports1)
vs. Oregon State, Sunday, 6 p.m. (FoxSports1)
at Washington, Thursday, March 6, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
at Washington State, Saturday, March 8, 8 p.m. (FoxSports1)

* CAL (9-5, 18-9)
at Arizona, Wednesday, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
at Arizona State, Saturday, 3 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)
vs. Utah, Wednesday, March 5, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
vs. Colorado, Saturday, March 8, 3:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

* STANFORD (9-5, 18-8)
at Arizona State, Wednesday, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
at Arizona, Sunday, 5 p.m. (ESPNU)
vs. Colorado, Wednesday, March 5, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
vs. Utah, Saturday, March 8, 11:30 a.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

* COLORADO (9-6, 20-8)
at Utah, Saturday, 11 a.m. (Pac-12 Networks)
at Stanford, Wednesday, March 5, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
at Cal, Saturday, March 8, 3:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

* ARIZONA STATE (8-6, 19-8)
vs. Stanford, Wednesday, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
vs. Cal, Saturday, 3 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)
at Oregon, Tuesday, March 4, 8 p.m. (FoxSports1)
at Oregon State, Saturday, March 8, 1:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

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Basketball: Jabari Bird finds his stroke, his smile

* 6 p.m. Wednesday at McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz. (ESPN2)

Jabari Bird’s reaction to hitting back-to-back 3-point shots against USC?

“It was relieving,” he said.

For his teammates and coaches also, no doubt. But certainly for Bird.

The former Salesian High prep All-American had made just 2 of 22 shots from the 3-point arc in Pac-12 play entering Sunday’s home game vs. the Trojans.

Now he enters Wednesday night’s matchup at Arizona with something else.

“I’m going into that game with a lot of confidence,” Bird said.

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Basketball: USC game thread

Click here to read my game story. And here for the box score.

FINAL SCORE: Cal 77, USC 64. The Bears used a 24-8 finishing run to improve to 18-9, 9-5 in the Pac-12, moving them into a tie for third place with Stanford. Cobbs finished with 22 points and seven assists, Kreklow had 12 points, Jabari Bird scored eight of his 10 points in the final 3:10 and Tyrone Wallace scored 10. Kravish had nine points, 10 rebounds and five of Cal’s nine blocked shots.

3:59 2nd H: Cal in midst of 11-0 run and leads 64-56. USC hasn’t scored since 8:06.

8:29 2nd H: A fastbreak drive by Howard and USC leads 54-53.

11:52 2nd H: Solomon picked up his fourth foul with 13:22 left and sat down. Cobbs gives Cal a 48-44 lead with a drive and free throw at 12:09. USC cannot have much confidence, having lost seven in a row. But the Trojans know this much: They already have beaten Cal once this year.

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Women’s basketball: Reshanda Gray, Bears topple USC 76-67 for 6th straight victory

The No. 18 Cal women beat USC 76-67 in Los Angeles to retain their sole grip on sescond place in the Pac-12.

The Bears (20-7, 12-4) have won six straight.

Reshanda Gray had 22 points and 11 rebounds for her sixth consecutive double-double and Afure Jemerigbe scored 16. Brittany Boyd contributed eight points, eight rebounds and five assists, moving to third on Cal’s career assist list with 474.