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SMU 67, Cal 65: Bears battled hard in heartbreaking loss to SMU to end season

The emergence of Jabari Bird during the Bears' NIT run bodes well for the future.

Jabari Bird was a huge bright spot during the Bears' NIT run.
Jabari Bird was a huge bright spot during the Bears' NIT run.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

"It felt good actually," Cal senior Justin Cobbs said of the last shot of the game and the last shot taken by him of his Cal career. "It just didn't go down."

And like that, the 2013-14 Cal Men's Basketball season came to an end.

In a game that mirrored the ups-and-downs of the Cal(21-14) season, the Golden Bears battled a very good SMU team tough for 40 minutes. The two teams traded buckets and the lead three times in the last 40 seconds. After SMU's Nick Russel made a tough twisting layup around Cal's David Kravish to give the Mustangs the lead with 38 seconds left. The Bears answered with a Justin Cobbs 3-pointer to take the lead.

Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown for SMU then drew up a play for their guard Nic Moore. The Bears had been playing zone all game with mixed result, out of necessity due to the unavailability of senior center/forward Richard Solomon (still out due to a concussion suffered outside of a game). For this last play, the Bears have gone back to play man-on-man. In a bit of the confusion that followed, Tyrone Wallace fell down and SMU's Nic Moore got a decent look to make a still tough 3-pointer with 9 seconds left. With a stoppage of the clock to check whether Moore's foot was on the line (it wasn't by the way), Cobbs took the ball back to the other side and got a clean look for a potential game winning 3-pointer that just went off the rim. Cobbs finish the game with 18 points on 8 for 11 shooting (2 for 4 from 3's) to go with 7 assists.

I don't believe George W. Bush or the former first lady were among the crowd that rushed court at the end of the game. He's just a bandwagon SMU fan.

Similar to the 2013-14 season, the game started in a very positive way for the Bears as they built a quick 9-2 lead. Despite SMU's reputation as very stingy when it comes to their opponents' Field Goal percentage, the Bears was 26 for 51 (good for 51%) for the game. When it was almost 10 minutes into the game, the Bears still held a 18-11 lead. While the 4 guards and 1 big formation played by the Bears was quite effective from the the result, it is fair to say that the Bears also made quite a few long jumpers (from Cobbs, Bird, and Kravish) during this stretch.

Moreover, with just one big and playing a defensive zone that also the team to be more susceptible to allow offensive rebounds (part of SMU's huge 35-22 edge in total rebounds and a big 17 to 6 difference in offensive rebounds), the Mustangs started to make adjustment and fight back into the game. When Justin Cobbs was given a breather in the first half, the Cal offense came to a halt. At the half, SMU held a 32-29 lead over the Bears.

The second half started out all SMU. A couple of turnovers and SMU baskets quickly turned the game into a 7 point Mustangs lead just barely a minute into the game. The Bears fought back, however, unlike what they had done in several games this season. Initially, there was a pair of Tyrone Wallace baskets (part of his 8 points for the game to go with 4 assists) to make it close and latter it was freshman Jabari Bird as the Bears and SMU traded small runs to lead to that exchange of baskets at the end of the game.

Jabari Bird had a brilliant game for the Bears. Bird was 8 for 13 for the game, including 3 of 6 from 3's for a game high 20 points. Using his long arms effectively, Bird also added two steals. While Bird did take a few what appeared to be ill-advised shots, he was making them, and it was very encouraging to see the freshman regain his confidence during Cal's 3 game NIT run. The highly heralded freshman had a promising outside of conference season for the Bears before suffering an ankle injury in the Creighton game that cost him some very valuable development time. Even when he was able to get back out to the floor, Bird couldn't crack coach Mike Montgomery's rotation for awhile.

"As disappointed as it is to be one shot away from going to New York, I was really proud of these guys and the effort they put forth," Coach Mike Montgomery said to open the press conference below.

Despite breaking his nose against Arkansas, Ricky Kreklow was able to start and play the false/undersized 4 for the Bears. Wearing a mask for the first half only, Kreklow shot only 0 for 4 for the game, but had 2 steals.

Being the lone big for the Bears for most of the game (Christian Behrens did play 14 minutes off the bench), junior David Kravish had a solid game with a near double-double of 12 points and 8 rebounds. Outside of the starting line of Cobbs-Wallace-Bird-Kreklow-Kravish, the Bears only got 5 points from the bench (3 on a Jordan Mathews 3-pointer).

The chart above nicely summarized the game. The Golden Bears were almost able to pull this game off, despite giving SMU a huge edge in rebounding, just based on their ability to make shots along. Had Cobbs' last shot as a Golden Bear gone in (then that shot obviously wasn't going to be the last shot of his career), the Bears would have advanced to the NIT semi-final in New York City (Madison Square Garden) next week. Instead, the Cal men's basketball season joined that of the Cal women's basketball last weekend and see its demise in the state of Texas (the women's season ended in Waco in a loss to Baylor). Unfortunately, this loss by the Bears in Dallas is not all just a dream. Maybe the Cal men's swimming can alter that trend starting today in the NCAA swimming and diving championship taking place in Austin.