California’s Ivan Rabb, center, and Kameron Rooks, left, guard Oregon State’s Gligorije Rakocevic (23) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY–Ivan Rabb arrived in Berkeley two years ago amid great fanfare, the latest local phenom to sign with Cal, following Jason Kidd and Leon Powe before him.
After Cal’s much-needed Senior Night victory over Oregon State, Rabb lingered on the floor, acknowledged a few more people than normal, and shook a few more hands.
Could this have been Rabb’s swan song with the NBA beckoning? As always, the very mature Rabb chose his words carefully.
“No question, I think I have the opportunity to go or stay, and I don’t know what’s going to happen. I did take time tonight to soak in the time on the court, slap fans hands, take pictures with people and really soak in the moment. Regardless, it was our last home game. And I wanted to enjoy it,” Rabb said.
The 6’11” sophomore could have joined Jaylen Brown as an NBA draft entrant last year. And his decision to return to school may have been bigger than his decision to come in the first place. By returning, Rabb allowed Coach Cuonzo Martin to avoid an immediate dip after the surge afforded his program with the signings of Rabb and Brown. The Bears have continued to win, and the prospect of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances is within reach.
Rabb has seen his draft stock drop slightly under the weight of constant double teaming, but he couldn’t have been more consistent, with the clear majority of his 27 double-doubles coming this season. The Oakland native will undoubtedly be choosen in the first round of the NBA draft if he chooses to leave. And his contribution to the university and the athletic department can’t be questioned.
And the most gratifying part of Senior Night by far? That the speculation surrounding Rabb did not take away from the attention afforded seniors Sam Singer, Jabari Bird, Roger Moute A Bidias, Stephen Domingo and Grant Mullins.
Nor did the presence of OSU, a team with only one win since December, and with an unsightly RPI number of 293, giving them the ability to ruin Cal’s season if they could summon one unlikey, superior performance.
That slight possibility lasted only a few minutes, when OSU’s early seven-point lead was wiped out by Cal scoring 20 of the game’s next 23 points. The Bears surged again at the beginning of the second half, and cruised to a 76-46 win.
At no point did the Bears let the emotionally-draining loss to Oregon on Wednesday affect them. Their dismantling of injury-riddled Oregon State was clearly a focused effort, one Martin noticed.
“We didn’t let the atmosphere comsume us,” Martin said. “This time of the season it’s never too late and it’s a good sign for us.”
Rabb led Cal with 16 points, and just missed another double-double with nine rebounds. Singer added 14 points, making all seven of his shots in his Haas Pavilion finale. And the Bears exploited their size and depth with significant edges in rebounds and points in the paint.
The Bears (19-9, 10-6) stopped a three-game losing streak with the win, and kept themselves on the good side of the NCAA tournament bubble with the win. They close the regular season at Utah, and at Colorado with the goal of finishing fourth in the Pac-12 standings and earning a first round bye in the conference tournament.
That and at least one win in Las Vegas should get the Bears into the NCAA field given their accomplishments to date.