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Cal Falls to Utah in Heartbreaker, Exits Pac-12 Tournament

Utah 82 - Cal 78 (OT)

Cuonzo Martin and the Bears fell just short.
Cuonzo Martin and the Bears fell just short.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This isn't going to be long.

It's after midnight and I just had my heart broken and just don't have a lot to give right now. That one hurt.

After our first meeting with Utah, a win at Haas Pavilion, I wrote that the Utes, at the time struggling to stay in the top 40 in overall efficiency and about to go 1-3 to start conference play, were a lot better than they were performing. Two months later the Utes had won 14 of 16, finished 2nd in the Pac-12, and were playing like a legitimate Top-10 team. That's the team Cal had to get through to reach the finals of the Pac-12 tournament.

There were about 5 times I was sure it was going to happen. And 5 times I was sure it was not. I was right. In the end the Bears lost an overtime thriller to a team that is playing as well as anyone they'll face in the NCAA tournament.

Cal 82 - Utah 78

Utah dominated the overtime, so let's talk about when the game was really decided.

  • With :34 left in regulation, Cal was up 1. The Bears forced Utah to run :15 off the shot clock, and Utah got into an awkward side pick and roll with Lorenzo Bonam and Jakob Poeltl. Ivan Rabb and Tyrone Wallace played it well, and when Poeltl went up for the shot, Rabb got terrific help from Jabari Bird. Poeltl missed, Ivan tipped out the rebound, there was a mad scramble at the top of the key. Jaylen Brown came within 6 inches of securing the loose ball. Instead, Jordan Loveridge came out to challenge Jaylen, who panicked and kicked the ball off his shin toward half court where Brandon Taylor was waiting. With 10.6 seconds left, Taylor drove right and was fouled by Bird. He made both shots. Utah up 1

  • As Taylor was making his free throws, Wallace was looking toward the bench. Cuonzo Martin was calling a play. And now I take you back to this moment:

There was momentary confusion between Ty and Jaylen, but as the referees inexplicably gave Cal extended time to inbound the ball, Ty explained the play. Cuonzo was going to get Jaylen going downhill and dare Utah to stop him. Like at the end of the 1st half of the USC game, Brown drove through the whole defense and got to the rim. Unlike the USC game, Jaylen Brown is now in a deep funk. His runner came up way short. Yet somehow, out of nowhere, in a move that was almost identical to Jason Kidd in 1993 against Duke (you old timers know what I'm talking about)...Jabari Bird came up with the offensive board, went up strong, dropped the bucket, and got fouled.. Bear lead. The whole team went crazy.

  • 4.3 seconds. Cal up 2. Timeout. And now I want to share with you another moment from the recent past:

I don't think we had a [conference] defensive player of the year...but I think, in my opinion, Sam Singer should have been on that [all conference defensive] team.

--Cuonzo Martin at 6:30

Utah had 4.3 seconds to get the ball up the court and get a shot. The Cal players on the floor were Wallace, Bird, Brown, Mathews, and Rabb.

So let me get this straight coach. You think Sam Singer is your best perimeter defender. You think he should have been on the conference all defensive team. You're trying to stop ball. But he is not on the floor when the game is on the line in that spot? I have a pretty high bar for criticizing coaches in articles, but not putting your best defender in the game for your most important defensive possession? That's a no-brainer.

You all know what happened. Bonam blew right through Ty Wallace* and got a layup.

A layup.

We went to overtime and the Bears were never really in it. You all saw it. I don't want to relive it.

*This is perhaps spectacularly unfair to Ty, who had a very good offensive game and kept the Bears in it throughout. But the reality is you cannot give up a layup in that spot, Ty was guarding Bonam, and he provided almost no resistance.

The Glass Half Empty

  • Cal can't close. On the verge of what would have been their three biggest wins of the year, they fell one play short.

  • On the heels of his best game in a college uniform, Ivan Rabb got 7 shots. He made 6 of them.  Meanwhile, four of his teammates got more shots. One of his teammates got more than twice as many shots, and another one got three times as many shots. Ivan also got zero assists while he was continually being double teamed. This is inexplicable. It is March 11 and Cal still has trouble utilizing their best offensive threat.

  • Jaylen Brown had his fourth straight poor game. He was 3-17 from the floor. On the eve of the NCAA tournament, Cal's best player has been a liability for two weeks.

The Glass Half Full

  • Cal played even with a top 10 team, led by the conference's player of the year. Utah is as good as anyone the Bears will face next week. Despite a horrific performance from the Bears' best player, they were still within .1 seconds of victory. They can play with anybody.

  • Ty is playing as well as he has ever played in a Cal uniform, Jabari continues to shine, and Ivan is a beast inside. When Jaylen inevitably bounces back, we will be impossible to deal with.

  • Cal will likely be a 5 seed, and we have the best chance in 19 years to watch second weekend tournament action.

I don't know how you should view the glass as we enter the last leg of our journey. Take it as your personal litmus test of your outlook on Cal sports. Just know that when one possession is the difference between a win and a loss, it can be easy to read too much into the outcome. There were 146 plays in that game. A different result on one or two of those plays and Cal would be playing tomorrow. Is the outcome of a play or two really enough to transform a group of poorly coached chokers into a group of winners? Or does the answer lie somewhere in between?

This team fights hard. They are flawed, just as many teams playing for a championship next week will be flawed. They are also very good, unlike many teams we have rooted for in the recent past. We started this journey together four months ago. One way or another, it will be over soon. Let's make the most of it.

Selection Sunday. We are ready. Together.

Go Bears.