* 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Haas Pavilion (Pac-12 Networks)
In their 31st game of the season, the Golden Bears (18-12, 9-8) will help determine whether they will play in the NCAA tournament two weeks from now.
“I’m going to be honest,” senior guard Justin Cobbs told me this week, “I don’t want to play in the NIT. That’s not my goal at all. I’ve put in so much work in these last 3-4 years. To go out in the NIT would really hurt.”
To avoid the NIT, Cal probably must beat Colorado (21-9, 10-7) in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Is this the absolute be-all, end-all game for the Bears? No.
Is there recourse if they lose to the Buffaloes? Yeah, they could win next week’s Pac-12 tournament and earn the league’s automatic berth.
Short of that? Almost certainly the NIT.
The Bears would be 18-13 with five losses in their final six games. Their RPI computer rating would be hovering somewhere at or above 60. Their win over then-No. 1 Arizona would be a distant memory, obscured by a wave of defeats since.
The assignment Saturday for the Bears is to block out the frustration of the past three weeks, find rhyhm and confidence on offense and sustained toughness on defense.
The players need to be ready and it’s coach Mike Montgomery’s job to see that they are.
Montgomery hasn’t had a team lose five of its final six regular-season games since the 1992-93 season at Stanford, when he endured his only losing record as a college coach.
Colorado won’t be easy. The Buffaloes have overcome the season-ending loss of their best player — point guard Spencer Dinwiddie — and with a win at Stanford on Wednesday likely locked up their own NCAA bid.
The Bears are 9-0 all-time against Colorado at home. If they make that 10 in a row, their postseason dreams remain alive.