March 16, 2008
BERKELEY - California has accepted a bid to the 2008 MasterCard National Invitation Tournament and will host New Mexico in a first-round game at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Haas Pavilion.
The Golden Bears, who are seeded fourth in their region of the bracket, finished the regular season with a 16-15 record, while the Lobos are seeded fifth and are 24-8. The winner of the Cal-New Mexico game will play the Ohio State-North Carolina Asheville winner in the second round March 20, 21, 22 or 24 at a site TBA.
Tickets for Wednesday's game are on sale now online at the Tickets link on CalBears.com and through the Cal Athletic Ticket Office at (800) GO BEARS. Season-ticket holders can reserve the same seats they had during the regular season by purchasing tickets before 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Cal owns a 3-1 series lead against New Mexico, most recently winning, 76-68, in Albuquerque on Nov. 23, 2002. The Bears also prevailed, 71-62, in Berkeley on Nov. 21, 2001.
"College basketball has become extremely competitive and to be in postseason is a huge opportunity," head coach Ben Braun said. "There may be some teams that felt that they should have been in the NCAA Tournament, and we've been in that boat before. You get in the NIT and sometimes you can make a mistake and look at that as a consolation. I don't think you ever look at that as a consolation. I know that one year we felt we should have been in the NCAA, we got in there (NIT) and it was great. We took advantage and ended up winning the NIT. This year is a great opportunity to extend our season, especially when we've been through so many tough games."
Cal is participating in the NIT for the sixth time and owns a 10-4 record in the event. The Bears won the championship in 1999 and reached the quarterfinals in both 1987 and 2000. Cal's NIT berth in 1986 marked the school's first postseason appearance since the NCAA runner-up squad of 1960, although the Bears made a first-round exit. Cal also advanced to the second round in 1989.
During their most recent NIT appearance, the Bears, led by junior Sean Lampley and freshmen Brian Wethers and Joe Shipp, defeated Long Beach State, 70-66, in the opening round and topped Georgetown, 60-49, in the second round, with both contests taking place at Haas Pavilion. Cal then lost to eventual champion Wake Forest, 76-59, the quarterfinals in Greensboro, N.C.
Cal reached the semifinals in 1999 with a home win over Fresno State (79-71) at the Oakland Arena, a 17-point comeback at DePaul (58-57) and another victory in Oakland over Colorado State (71-62). The Bears met a familiar foe in Oregon in the semis in New York. Although Cal lost both regular-season games to the Ducks, it prevailed, 85-69, behind 22 points from Mike Gill. The Bears then edged Clemson, 61-60, for the title, going ahead when Geno Carlisle hit a free throw to complete a three-point play with 4.7 seconds left. Lampley, who had 16 points vs. Clemson, was named the NIT's MVP.
Including the NCAA Tournament, this marks Cal's 20th foray into the postseason. Braun has guided the Bears into either the NCAA playoffs or NIT eight times, more than any coach in school history. His record of 11-6 also gives him more postseason victories than any previous Golden Bear coach.
Cal, which has played the nation's fifth-toughest schedule according to the Sagarin Ratings, is paced by first-team All-Pac-10 forward Ryan Anderson, the league's leading scorer at 21.3 ppg and third-best rebounder at 10.0 rpg. The Bears feature two other players averaging in double figures in sophomore guards Patrick Christopher (15.8 ppg) and Jerome Randle (11.7 ppg). As a team, Cal ranks second nationally in free throw shooting (78.0 percent) and 31st in scoring (77.3 ppg).
New Mexico is led by Mountain West Conference Co-Player of the Year J.R. Giddens, who averages 16.0 ppg and 8.7 rpg. The Lobos lead the nation in three-point percentage at 42.5 percent and are paced by Chad Toppert, who has connected on 84 shots and is making 48.3 percent of his attempts from behind the arc.
The 2008 NIT field features 32 teams seeded 1-8 in four different regions. In addition to Ohio State, the other top seeds are Virginia Tech, Arizona State and Syracuse.
The first three rounds of the NIT are played at host school sites, starting with the opening round March 18-19. Second-round contests will be contested March 20-24 and quarterfinals March 25-27. The semifinals and final are set for April 1-3 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
For more information on the NIT, visit nit.org.
Cal's History in the NIT 1986 Loyola Marymount 80, Cal 75 Berkeley, CA
1987 Cal 72, Cal State Fullerton 68 OT Berkeley, CA Cal 65, Oregon State 62 Corvallis, OR Arkansas-Little Rock 80, Cal 73 Pine Bluff, AR
1989 Cal 73, Hawaii 57 Berkeley, CA Connecticut 73, Cal 72 Hartford, CT
1999 Cal 79, Fresno State 71 Oakland, CA Cal 58, DePaul 57 Rosemont, IL Cal 71, Colorado State 62 Oakland, CA Cal 85, Oregon 69 New York, NY Cal 61, Clemson 60 New York, NY
2000 Cal 70, Long Beach State 66 Berkeley, CA Cal 60, Georgetown 49 Berkeley, CA Wake Forest 76, Cal 59 Greensboro, NC