Cal wins, learns from win over UNLV
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- It was a night of lessons learned for California.
The Golden Bears corrected their mistakes and played like they did in the month of February at HP Pavilion to upset No. 5 seed UNLV 64-61 in an NCAA tournament rematch from earlier in the season.
[Related video: Cal-UNLV highlights@NCAA.com]
In December up in Berkeley, Cal allowed talented freshman Anthony Bennett to stuff his NBA resume full of highlights during a 76-75 loss. Thanks to a mix of zone defense, ball denial and double-teams, the Bears limited Bennett to just 4-of-11 shooting in the 2nd round game on Thursday night.
"I don't know if we took him out per se, but we were certainly more aware of him. We basically said, 'Let's not let the ball be passed to the low post,'" head coach Mike Montgomery said. "At our place it seemed like he made every shot but he didn't make all of them tonight."
After seeing a long buzzer-beater from Utah send their Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal game into overtime, Montgomery opted to foul up three to prevent a repeat.
In fact, Cal did it twice with under 10 seconds left on the clock just to be sure.
"That would have been solved if we had made free throws," a somewhat disgusted Montgomery said after the team went just 7-of-16 from the line. "We talked about [being up three] in practice. The problem was we didn't use as much time as I would have liked to use."
Can't learn everything in one night apparently. There's still Friday's practice ahead of their next game on Saturday vs. the winner of Syracuse-Montana.
Still, there were plenty of things that made this Cal team look like the one that won seven in a row to finish second in the Pac-12. Guard Justin Cobbs was just 4-of-13 from the field but contributed five rebounds and six assists.
"You can't always rely on your scoring so you try to make sure you get your teammates involved," the junior said. "Our big men had their hands full so I made sure to go down there and grab a few rebounds to help out."
Little used Robert Thurman had the heavily Gold and Blue-laced crowd on its feet often in the 2nd half, scoring eight straight at one point on his way to a 12-point effort that consisted entirely of put-back dunks.
"For most guys that are 6-foot-7, it's not that hard to dunk. I just got lucky because Justin and Allen [Crabbe] really penetrated well," Thurman said. "They're a big threat when they get there and I was wide open underneath the rim."
"We have players that can go off on any night," Crabbe added. "I feel like our bigs don't get a lot of credit. Once we get them involved, they can finish for us. We showed tonight what they can do offensively. They played great on both sides of the ball."
The Cal performance was also a lesson learned for the NCAA Selection Committee. The Pac-12 went 3-0 to open the 2nd round and became the first conference to ever advance advance two 12 seeds in the same tournament. Despite returning from Las Vegas on a two game losing streak, the Bears controlled the game after going on a 17-9 run to open the 2nd half and avenged their earlier loss to the Rebels.
"It shows you that our conference is tough," Cobbs said. "It's tough from top to bottom. Teams are playing well right now. All that bad press we got before wasn't true."
“I can’t imagine there being a better conference than the Pac-12. Across the board, all sports. It's just the way we approach things," Montgomery continued. "I hope the league continues to do well. It was a good conference this year.”
There are certainly a few folks sitting at home with busted brackets that learned as much Thursday night in the Bay Area.