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Basketball: Bears face Utah Valley in NIT

It was no surprise that the Bears (19-13) were bypassed by the NCAA tournament selection committee Sunday.

Instead, they are a No. 2 seed in the NIT and will host a first-round game Wednesday against Utah Valley (20-11). Tipoff is 7:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN3.

“You always keep your fingers crossed,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said, when asked if he held out hope for an NCAA bid. “I think we were one win away from getting in, whether it be the Utah game at home or Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament.

“I think it was that close. At the end of the day, when you look at it in retrospect, you feel like you really put yourself in a tough spot. We’ve got nobody to blame but ourselves. We had so many opportunities to make it a no-brainer, but we just weren’t able to do that.”

Montgomery said he’s known Utah Valley coach Dick Hunsaker since Hunsaker was a player at Weber State during the time Montgomery coached at Montana.

“He’s a feisty guy,” Montgomery said. “His team will be well-prepared and organized. One of their better players is his son, Holton. I would expect that team will be well-prepared and well-organized.”

The Wolverines won the Western Athletic Conference regular-season title at 13-3, then lost to Idaho in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

Senior point guard Holton Hunsaker, the coach’s son, is the club’s top scorer at 14.4 points per game. Ben Aird, a 6-9 senior center, averages 11.6 points and 8.3 rebounds.

With a victory, Cal is expected to remain at Haas Pavilion for a second-round matchup against the winner of No. 3 seed Arkansas and No. 6 Indiana State. No date for that game has been determined.

Cal beat Utah Valley 85-51 on Dec. 28, 2009 at the Golden Bear Classic in Berkeley in the only other meeting between the two teams.

This is Cal’s eighth trip to the NIT. The Bears have an all-time tournament record of 12-6, including a 5-0 mark in 1999 when they won the NIT title.

The NIT includes 32 teams, seeded 1 through 8 in four regions. The first three rounds of games are held at campus sites, with the semifinals and finals set for April 1 and 3 at Madison Square Garden.

Jeff Faraudo