Even though the California Golden Bears were practically at home, they weren’t picked by many to upstage UNLV in the first NCAA tournament game for both squads.
However, when the game ended, Cal had done what not many people thought they would do: beat the Rebels and advance to the Round of 32.
Cal’s season was headed in the wrong direction when they were 11-8 and had lost eight of their last 13 games. However, a seven-game winning streak changed all of that and sent the Bears into the tournament, where they drew a nice game with UNLV. Then, Cal struck and surprised the nation once again.
Allen Crabbe scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, Justin Cobbs scored 13 points and dished out six assists and 12th-seeded Cal upset fifth-seeded UNLV 64-61 in San Jose. UNLV shot a miserable 32.2 percent from the field, as Cal forced them into some bad shots.
While the Bears drained some big threes, particularly early in the second half (when they built up a lead they wouldn’t relinquish), they looked as if they were trying to lose late in the game. Cobbs was on the free throw line with 35 seconds left and Cal had a seven-point lead, but with 6.5 seconds left, that lead was just one point.
Why? Because Cal wasn’t able to make free throws.
Luckily for the Bears, there was a no-call when Cobbs received the inbounds pass and bolted away from two defenders, giving the ball up to Crabbe and wasting five seconds. Crabbe nailed two free throws, and after two failed desperation heaves by the Rebels, Cal had punched its ticket to the Round of 32.
Cal wasn’t perfect, as the Bears shot just 43.8 percent from the charity stripe and shot 44.1 percent from the field. However, they made their shots when they needed to. With 47 seconds left, Richard Solomon received a great pass from Cobbs and ferociously dunked the ball, giving Cal a seven-point lead.
In a span of 4:11, Robert Thurman recorded four dunks, and in a span of 40 seconds, he dunked the ball twice. Thurman, who averaged a minimal 4.5 points per game (PPG) in the 2012-13 season, scored eight straight points for Cal, and he was instrumental in Cal keeping its slim second half lead and finishing on top when the game ended.
The Bears are moving on, and they are ready to fight for a berth in the Sweet 16. Cal outplayed UNLV, and even in a place they seemed weak (rebounding), they were only out-rebounded by a single board. The Bears contested shots and forced UNLV to use up a lot of the shot clock, which rushed shots from the Rebels and helped Cal. You know you’re doing something right when the opponent is shooting 32.2 percent.
Syracuse is up next on Saturday for Cal, and the Bears will be ready with another home crowd. It’s not expected to happen, but if Syracuse makes less than one-thirds of its shots as well, don’t be surprised to see Cal, a team most thought wouldn’t come close to the tournament, as one of the last 16 teams standing in March.
And who knows? If Cal gets hot, they could even be one of the final teams dancing in March. Crazier things have happened.