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Senior forward Richard Solomon, the Pac-12’s leading rebounder, sat out with a concussion, but Cal won its NIT opener, beating Utah Valley 77-64 in front of 1,862 fans at Haas Pavilion.
The second-seeded Bears (20-13) advance to a second-round game Monday against No. 3 seed Arkansas. Tipoff is 8 p.m. at Haas. Cal beat the Razorbacks 85-77 in the Maui Invitational back on Nov. 25.
Coach Mike Montgomery said he hopes Solomon can play Monday.
David Kravish had 14 points, 10 rebounds and equaled his career high with five blocked shots.
Justin Cobbs had 13 points and seven assists and freshman Jabari Bird, inserted into the starting lineup, responded with 11 points.
Freshman Jordan Mathews scored 13 off the bench and senior Jeff Powers had 10 points.
Holton Hunsaker scored 22 points for the Wolverines (20-12), regular-season champions of the Western Athletic Conference.
A couple of words on the Utah Valley Wolverines (20-11), who visit Haas Pavilion on Wednesday night for an NIT opener against the No. 2 seeded Golden Bears (19-13). Tipoff is 7:30 p.m.
The team won the WAC regular-season title with a 13-3 record, then lost 74-69 to Idaho in the league tournament. As a result, according to NIT rules, the Wolverines were given an automatic bid to the NIT.
Utah Valley played two significant non-conference opponents, losing 93-40 at Oklahoma State and 69-54 at Oregon. The Wolverines also defeated two non-Division I foes.
The team is led by 6-foot senior PG Holton Hunsaker, the son of coach Dick Hunsaker, who averages 14.0 ppg and 4.2 apg. Ben Aird, a 6-9 senior center, averages 11.6 ppg and 8.3 rpg.
The Wolverines had an NCAA RPI rating of No. 144 this week. Cal is at No. 63.
NOTE: I am traveling to St. Louis today to cover the NCAA tournament and will not be at Haas tonight. We will have a writer at the game and I will link our story to BearTalk late tonight.
This isn’t where Justin Cobbs wanted to be.
“Nobody wants to play in the NIT,” the Cal point guard said a couple weeks ago as the Golden Bears were pursuing an NCAA tournament bid.
But Cobbs and the Bears (19-13) find themselves in college basketball’s consolation tournament Wednesday night, taking on Utah Valley (21-11), regular-season champs of the Western Athletic Conference. Tipoff at Haas Pavilion is 7:30 p.m.
If Cobbs isn’t entirely satisfied by the final chapter of his senior season, he no longer harbors the doubts about his own game that followed him to Berkeley as a transfer from Minnesota in the fall of 2010.
“I just didn’t know if I was good enough,” said Cobbs, who averaged 2.1 points as a freshman with the Golden Gophers before jumping to Cal. “I put expectations on myself to at least go in and contribute, at least help the team in some way. I went in and really didn’t do anything.”
Cobbs has delivered for Cal, even while struggling at times to find a balance between his dual roles as scorer and floor leader.
Click here to read the rest of my story.
Cal announced that (presuming a victory Wednesday) it would host a second-round game against Arkansas (a 91-71 first-round winner over Indiana State) either Sunday or Monday.
Here are semifinal results Friday from the Pac-12 tournament at the MGM Garden Arena in Las Vegas:
UCLA 84, STANFORD 59: This one was never close. The second-seeded Bruins (25-8) had leads of 9-2, 25-4 and 41-21 in the first half on the way to clinching a spot in Saturday’s title game. Kyle Anderson had 13 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, Norman Powell scored 22 points and Travis Wear made all eight of his shots to score 16.
Stanford (21-12), which essentially clinched its NCAA tournament bid with a win over Arizona State the night before, never threatened the Bruins. Dwight Powell scored 16 points and Chasson Randle had 11.
ARIZONA 63, COLORADO 43: The top-seeded Wildcats (30-3) pulled away in the second half to advance to Saturday’s championship game. Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson included a SportsCenter-worthy alley-oop dunk among his 16 points. T.J. McConnell had 12 points and five assists and Aaron Gordon filled the stat line with nine points, nine rebounds, three assists, three blocks and three steals.
Askia Booker scored 12 points and Xavier Johnson 11 for the Buffaloes (23-11), who shot just 22.7 percent in the second half and 29.4 percent for the game.
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FINAL SCORE: Colorado 59, Cal 56. Cobbs’ 3-point try at the buzzer missed and the Bears (19-13) likely will be denied their third straight NCAA tournament bid. Cobbs scored 21 points and Wallace had 13. The two combined to score Cal’s final 22 points. Solomon had 16 rebounds.
Usual post-game theme: Team didn’t play hard enough in the first half, then made a few critical mistakes at the finish after rallying. No Cal player or coach was willing to predict what might come Sunday, but Cobbs’ red, tear-filled eyes on the interview podium said it all.
6:30 2nd H: A steal and emphatic breakaway dunk by Cobbs and Cal trails just 49-48.
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FINAL SCORE: Cal 66, Colorado 65, OT: The Bears (19-12, 10-8) secure the No. 4 seed and first-round bye for next week’s Pac-12 tournament. The Bears will play Thursday at 2:36 p.m. at the MGM Grand, likely against Colorado. The Buffaloes earned the No. 5 seed and must beat No. 12 on Wednesday to get a rematch with Cal.
Justin Cobbs shot just 5 for 17, but made all eight of his FTs and led the Bears with 21 points. Solomon and Kravish each had 14 points and 12 rebounds. The Bears missed their final 10 shots and converted just 35 percent for the game, but blocked eight shots.
OVERTIME: We get 5 more minutes after the teams were even at 59-all. Cobbs picked up a loose ball with a couple seconds left, but his 50-foot heave missed.
* 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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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.
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.”
* 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.