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Basketball: Will Bears be ready for biggest game? `I dont want to play in the NIT’ — Justin Cobbs

* 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.

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Basketball: Utah game thread

Click here to read my game story.

FINAL SCORE: Utah 63, Cal 59. The Bears (18-12) lose their fourth in five games and drop into a four-way tie for fifth place at 9-8 in the Pac-12. Cal plays Colorado at home Saturday, still nursing a chance to move into a top-four seeding for the Pac-12 tournament. Richard Solomon finished with 19 points — all of them in the second half — and 14 rebounds. He scored nine points in the final 35.9 seconds as the Bears desperately tried to fight back. But they never got closer than three points. Justin Cobbs had seven assists, giving him 502 for his Cal career. Utah improves to 20-9, 9-8 in conference play with just its second road win of the season.

3:39 2nd H: Cal possession at 48-all after traveling call by Utes. A dunk by Solomon and four straight FTs by Wallace got the Bears even after Utah led 48-42.

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Basketball: Can Solomon rediscover form?

To snap out of their recent slide — three double-digit losses in their past four games — the Bears need to improve their passing and tighten their defense, coach Mike Montgomery said.

They also need more Wednesday night against Utah from forward Richard Solomon, who has had a solid senior season . . . until the past two weeks.

Solomon averaged 11.8 points and 10.3 rebounds through the Bears’ first 25 games, but has produced just 5.5 points and 6.7 rebounds the past four games. He’s shooting 6 for 24 — just 25 percent — over that stretch.

“He’s putting pressure on himself and as a result he’s kind of reverting back to doing some of the things he did early on that weren’t very successful for him,” Montgomery said.

“For us to be successful, he’s got to be successful. He’s just got to relax and make plays.”

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Basketball: Utah game is chance for Bears to try climbing into top four in Pac-12 standings

* 8 p.m. Wednesday at Haas Pavilion (ESPNU)

The race has tightened.

Oregon’s 85-78 win over Arizona State on Wednesday night — the Ducks’ sixth straight victory — leaves seven teams within a game-and-a-half of each other in the middle of the Pac-12 standings.

Here’s the current logjam from third through ninth place: Arizona State 10-7, Colorado 9-7, Stanford 9-7, Cal 9-7, Oregon 9-8, Utah 8-8, Washington 8-8.

There is a lot at stake this week, including NCAA tournament prospects. But the more immediate issue is the seven-way battle for the final two top-four finishes in the conference standings, the reward for which is a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament.

Arizona has clinched the title at 14-2 and UCLA is second at 11-5.

After that, mayhem.

There are too many mathematical possibilities to cover them all, but here’s what the Bears’ game Wednesday night against Utah means to the Bears:

– A win and Cal sits in a tie for third place at 10-7 with ASU and the winner of Wednesday night’s game between Colorado and Stanford.

– A loss and the Bears slide into a four-way tie for fifth place with Utah, Oregon and the loser of the Colorado-Stanford game.

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Basketball: ASU game thread

FINAL SCORE: Arizona State 78, Cal 60. The Bears (18-11, 9-7) fall out of a tie for third place after being routed in Tempe. Bears now tied for fifth place with Colorado and just one game ahead of Oregon, Utah and Washington, all 8-8. Cal has now lost 3 of its past 4 games, by a combined margin of 68 points.

The Bears struggled at both ends of the court in this one. ASU, after making just 4 of its first 17 shots, converted 25 of its final 39 (including some garbage time with the walkons). Jermaine Marshall scored 22 points, including 6 for 8 from the 3-point arc, to lead the Sun Devils (21-8, 10-6), who swept the Bay Area schools at home this week after losing to Utah and Colorado on the road a week ago. Jonathan Gilling added 15 points for ASU, including four baskets from inside the 3-point arc. He had made just 4 2-pointers throughout the entire Pac-12 schedule, according to Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic.

Cal got 15 points from Justin Cobbs, 12 points and eight rebounds from David Kravish and 14 points off the bench from Jordan Mathews. But the Bears shot just 41.5 percent and once more got almost no offensive contribution from Richard Solomon. Solid most of this season, the senior forward is shooting 6 for 24 and averaging just 5.5 points the past four games.

Cal returns home to face Utah on Wednesday, then Colorado on Saturday. To earn that top-4 finish and a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament and to fan their NCAA tournament hopes, the Bears may have to win both. 

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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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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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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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