Cal puts itself back into NCAA consideration with win over Utah in Pac-12 quarterfinals

March 10, 2017

Cal Bears, NCAA

AP17068852462652

By Morris Phillips

Cal’s end to the regular season won’t be a disaster.

But two consecutive wins can’t accomplish what three can, meaning Cal’s NCAA quest needs one more big step Friday night against Oregon in the Pac-12 semifinals.

While the Bears’ 21st win carries a bit of weight, as does their about face performance against Utah, their 1-7 record against Top 50 competition is ghastly, the worst such record among those teams under the closest scrutiny by the NCAA selection committee.

The third meeting of the season with the Ducks in the tourney semis will be Cal’s final opportunity to get over the hump. Win, and the Bears could go dancing after all.  Lose, and it’s off to the NIT.

“We lost a tough one at home to them,” coach Cuonzo Martin said.  “We didn’t play as well at their place. Lost a tough one at our place.  It took a lot out of us as a team because we felt we had that one. For us, we know the game plan. We understand the task at hand and what we have to do.”

And how critical it will be for the Pac-12’s top defensive team to score against the second highest scoring team, Oregon, which is averaging 17 points more than what Cal typically allows.

Against fourth-seeded Utah, the Bears broke open a tie game at the half by making their first nine shots after halftime. They extended their lead to 10 on Jabari Bird’s three with 8:54 remaining. Bird would make four threes against Utah and led all scorers with 26 points.

Cal still lead by 11 with 2:17 remaining when Utah made its move, slicing the lead to one with 26 seconds left. But the Bears held on, getting five of Bird’s 26 points in those final seconds to hold on, 78-75.

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