Cal in Big Dance, but just barely 

click to enlarge Cal's Jorge Gutierrez, left, and Harper Kamp will lead the Bears against South Florida on Wednesday. - US PRESSWIRE FILE PHOTO
  • US Presswire file photo
  • Cal's Jorge Gutierrez, left, and Harper Kamp will lead the Bears against South Florida on Wednesday.

BERKELEY — Twenty-four wins sure doesn’t buy a Pac-12 Conference basketball team what it used to.
Despite finishing second in the conference with a 13-5 record (24-9 overall), Cal was relegated to the NCAA Tournament’s recently added play-in round when brackets were unveiled Sunday.

While the selection puts Cal, which lost three of its past four games, in the 68-team tournament, the Bears will need to knock off South Florida in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday to officially earn its No. 12 seed and play Temple in the Midwest Regional bracket Friday. If Cal loses, they’ll be back in Berkeley before the real
madness even starts.

“I feel bad for the Pac-12,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “I thought we kind of got short-shifted.” 

Cal isn’t the only Pac-12 team with a claim to being snubbed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee this year. The conference’s regular-season champion, Washington (21-10, 14-4), was left out completely. Colorado is the only other team to land a spot (a No. 11 seed in the South bracket), and that was an automatic berth for winning the Pac-12 tournament.

“It just shows they really doubted our conference this year,” sophomore guard Allen Crabbe said.

But the Bears could have avoided this predicament. Two weeks ago, Cal sat atop the conference standings with a second Pac-12 title in three years within its grasp. The Bears just needed two wins. Instead, they dropped back-to-back road games against Colorado and Stanford before being bounced from the Pac-12 tournament in the semifinals by Colorado.

Senior forward Harper Kamp said the Bears were penalized for their sluggish finish.

“We didn’t finish as strongly as we should have and I think people responded to that,” he said.

With the play-in game only two days away, the Bears will need to iron the wrinkles out of their game quickly. The team was marred by turnover problems in Los Angeles, committing 14 in the first half against Stanford on Thursday and another 17 (total) in the Colorado loss Friday. Long scoring droughts have also been a theme in each of the Bears’ three recent losses.

“We just kind of lost the confidence we had the entire year,” Kamp said. “We’ve really got nothing to lose now.”

After VCU’s incredible run from “First Four” to Final Four last year, the Bears know the slate is clean once March Madness tips off.

“It’s a new birth,” sophomore guard Justin Cobbs said. “Now everybody’s 0-0, playing six or seven games to live a dream and win a national championship.”


No. 12 Cal vs. No. 12 South Florida

When: Wednesday, 6:10 p.m.
Where: University of Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio
Radio: KKSF (910 AM)
What’s next: Winner plays fifth-seeded Temple on Friday at Nashville, Tenn., in the Midwest Regional

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Paul Gackle

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