The Bears won. That is the most important thing at this junction of the season. With Cal's NCAA tournament chance on life-support, this win ensures that the Bears (19-12, 10-8) are still on the bubble until the next game. Thanks to a rather weird (and confusing) tie-breaking scenario, Cal is one of two teams out of the 5 (along with ASU, Stanfurd, Oregon, and Colorado), tied for 3rd in the Pac-12 record-wise, that earned a much coveted first round bye in the Pac-12 tournament next week. The Bears face yet another must win scenario next Thursday at 2:30 PM PT, when they likely will face Colorado Buffaloes (21-10, 10-8) again unless USC can upset them. Win that game, then the Bears have a solid shot (depending on how things unfold in the rest of the bubble). Win the game after that (likely against Arizona) then the Bears are pretty much in. Regardless, expect plenty of Cal discussion amongst "teams on the bubble" on ESPN, etc. in the coming week. Any publicity is good publicity, right?
With the win, #Cal has finished in a tie for fourth place or better in every year of the Mike Montgomery era. #gobears— GoldenBlogs (@GoldenBlogs) March 9, 2014
It wasn't pretty by any means. In OT, the Bears managed to win despite not making any field goals (all 7 points earned from the charity stripe). In both the end of regulation and the end of OT, Bears only survived because Colorado was not able to make a game winning shot; sort of decent Cal defense had something to do with this, but in both instances you can say that the Bears dodged a bullet. Justin Cobbs called this game "a sigh of relief".
As you can see from the game flow chart above, this game was tight the entire way. The biggest lead was 9 point by Colorado with 8:53 left in regulation. Bears than won a 4 minute stretch between 7 to 3 minutes left in the game, when they went on a 8-0 run. With the game tied at 57 with 1:23 left, Bears had an empty possession. To make things worse, a possible bad mistake by Richard Solomon allowed Buffs' Askia Booker to get an easy transition layup on the other end. On the ensuing Cal possession, senior Justin Cobbs (Cal's leading scorer with 21 points, including 3 for 5 from 3-pointland; not to mention a game high 45 minutes played) earned a trip to the line. Cobbs calmly sank both free throws, before Colorado get the last possession of regulation. Colorado proceed to turn the ball over (never got a shot off), and Justin Cobbs drew iron on an almost miraculous half court+ shot at the buzzer.
In OT, Bears were 7 for 9 on the free throw line with Richard Solomon and Tyrone Wallace (on the front of an 1-and-1) being the culprits for leaving points at the line. That was just enough to offset 0-7 from the field. After Colorado scored a bucket on their first possession, Bears were only able to answer with Solomon (a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds to go with 4 blocks on Senior Day) was only able to convert 1 free throws (he was 2 for 4 from the line for the game, right around his season average). The two teams traded 2 points back-and-forth with the Bears holding an one point lead with 0:58 left after two free throws made by David Kravish (also owner of a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds but just 1 block). With another big defensive possession, the Bears inexplicably allowed Askia Booker to get an uncontested layup quickly. On the ensuing possession, Justin Cobbs missed a shot, but there was a review to see if the ball went off Colorado (like it was originally called) or a Bear. Bears were fortunate to get the ball back. Cobbs again earned a trip to the free throw line after being hit on the elbow during a jump shot attempt. The senior cap Senior Day by again calmly making both free throws to give the Bears the lead again. Cobbs was a perfect 8 for 8 from the line.
For all his offensive inefficiency in this game (only 1 for 5 from the field and 1 for 3 from the line), Tyrone Wallace came up with a huge steal next with 4 seconds left. Wallace missed the front end of a 1-and-1 so Colorado (without timeout) got the ball with the chance to win. Booker missed a rushed but perhaps too good of a look 3-point attempt to allow the Bears to escape.
Looking at the chart of victory below,
Bears were out rebounding 45 to 35 and out shot from the field 40.3% to 35.4%. Fortunately, the Bears had the edge in free throw shooting attempts 19 to 14 and in turnovers only 5 to Colorado's 8.
Colorado's Xavier Johnson had a game high of 24 points on 8 of 15 from the field. Josh Scott got a double-double for the Buffs with 10 and 10.
The Buffs only got 7 points from their bench which is matched by Cal's Jabari Bird alone. In the first half, Colorado went on an early 10-0 run. Unlike many other recent games where the Bears let it get out of hand, Jabari Bird played brilliantly coming off the bench. Bird made a 3, then a sweet dish, then another bucket. Bird also got one of two blocks for the game to cap off his energizing run that brought the Bears back.
Cal suffered a moment of scare in the first when Richard Solomon rolled over his ankle after coming down on a rebound. After going to the locker room briefly, Solomon was able to come back and provide some resistance against the strong Colorado front court, especially since Cal is without the service of freshman Kameron Rooks (out for the year with a foot injury).
Toward the end of the half, Colorado again threatened to run away with the game. A huge 3 point bucket made by Justin Cobbs right before the half cut the Colorado lead in half (31 to 28). A somewhat unsung hero for the Bears is the play of Ricky Kreklow. Despite only making 1 of 8 (including 0 for 5 from 3's), Kreklow had a game high 6 assists to go with 0 turnovers.
In addition to Cobbs and Solomon, the third senior for the Bears, Jeff Powers, missed both of his two field goal attempt in two minutes of play.
Against a good team, Cal has finally done just enough to earn some confidence going into the Pac-12 tournament (and a likely rematch). Cal's performance is far from perfect in this game. There were again some defensive miscues where guys did not rotate enough or be in position for rebounds. Offensively, Jabari Bird finally showed some of the explosiveness that he had at the beginning of the year (and what made him a highly heralded recruit). Tyrone Wallace again shot an airball and had another missed layup. Maybe Coach Mike Montgomery need to rotate him and Bird more when the Bears need offense or defense.
Post Game Interview with Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon: