Cal Bears Looking to Strike it Rich in Las Vegas


While you spend Thanksgiving around the dinner table with family and friends, eight college basketball teams, including the Cal Bears, will be spending their holiday in Las Vegas, looking to strike it rich.

The Continental Tires Las Vegas Invitational, emanating from Orleans Arena, tips off on Thursday, giving eight teams an opportunity to prove themselves in the very early going of this college basketball season. Among those eight are the California Golden Bears, who look like the early favorites heading into Sin City.

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There are four games on the slate for Thanksgiving Day. In the first game of the day at 11 in the morning (Pacific Time), the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans, who are 3-0 on the season, take on the East Carolina Pirates, who sit at 2-2. In the second game at 2 o’clock, the 4-0 West Virginia Mountaineers battle the 3-1 Richmond Spiders. At 6 PM, the 2-2 Bethune-Cookman Wildcats face off with the 1-3 Stetson Hatters. At 9 PM, the final game of the day, the Cal Bears, at 4-0, face the San Diego State Aztecs, who are 3-2.

On Friday, the second and final day of the two-day mini-tournament, the Bears are guaranteed to play, but they hold the tip-off time in their hands. If they lose to SDSU on Thursday, they’ll play at 5 PM against the loser of the West Virginia and Richmond game in the third place game. If they beat San Diego, they play at 7:30 as the final game in Las Vegas, against the winner of the West Virginia and Richmond tilt.

There will be two other games on Friday, as well. The Sam Houston State Bearkats, who lost 89-63 to the Golden Bears on Monday night, will face the loser of Bethune-Cookman and Stetson. East Carolina will face the loser of that Bethune-Cookman/Stetson matchup.

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Six teams will be involved in the Las Vegas Invitational for the first time this year, including Cal. West Virginia, in 2008, and Bethune-Cookman, in 2010, are the only repeat competitors. In 2008, West Virginia made it to the championship game, but fell to the Kentucky Wildcats in the deciding contest.

Cal is the only AP ranked team that will be competing in the holiday invitational, as they sit 14th in the third week of rankings. However, in the USA Today edition of rankings, where Cal is ranked 13th, they are joined by West Virginia, who is 22nd.

The Golden Bears will be led into the tournament by second-year head coach Cuonzo Martin, and senior point guard Tyrone Wallace, who has picked up right where he left off in his junior year. Just as he was during the 2014-2015 campaign, Wallace is Cal’s leading scorer, at 20.3 points per game, and leading assist man, at 5.5 per game. In the Pac-12, Wallace is tied for second in scoring, and is alone in second in assists.

Along with the senior, two young freshmen have wasted no time establishing themselves as legitimate players. Jaylen Brown is second on the team in scoring and rebounding, at 16.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. In his past two games, he has racked up a double-double both times out. Ivan Rabb is averaging 12 points and is leading the team in rebounds with 8.5 per game. He is also a prolific shot-blocker, averaging three rejections per game, tied for third in the Pac-12.

Junior guards Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird are also averaging over 10 points per game, giving Cal five players, all starters, who average double figures in scoring through the first four games of the year.

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The Cal Bears have a great chance to go into Sin City and hit the jackpot by winning the Las Vegas Invitational. If they want to continue to put their names on the map, scoring some wins in a high-profile tournament is a great way to do so.