Cal's men's basketball team wasn't able to capitalize on its opportunity to win the Pac-12 regular season championship. Now, the Bears get a chance to win another kind of title.
The Bears open play in the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday night in Las Vegas against either USC or Utah. They narrowly missed out on the regular season crown, and plan to use that as motivation to win the Pac-12's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
"We let the regular season slip away. We have a new focus now," said Cal guard Allen Crabbe, the Pac-12 Player of the Year. "We have three games to win this Pac-12 Tournament."
Cal (20-10) entered the final week of the regular season needing to beat Stanford and then have UCLA and Oregon each lose one game. The Bruins and Ducks both lost, but the Bears were knocked off by Stanford.
That left Cal in second place to finish the season, giving them the No. 2 seed at the conference tournament, which is being held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
The overwhelming consensus is this will be the most wide-open tournaments in years, with as many as nine teams believed to be legitimate contenders for the championship.
"Stanford came in as the ninth-place team and played great, which was really disappointing in retrospect because it was all there for us," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "We didn't get it done, but you have to give credit where credit is due. This league has been really good. You could look at it as the teams at the top have been more impressive because it has been so hard."
The Bears will have had eight days off between games by the time they take the floor in Las Vegas on Thursday night. Cal has been using the time off to rest tired bodies and re-commit itself to performing on the defensive end, which was the primary reason the Bears strung together seven straight wins before falling to Stanford.
"We lost one championship. Now we want to see if we can get this one," Cal point guard Justin Cobbs said. "It would be a great accomplishment if this team can win the conference championship. We're capable of doing that."
Allen Crabbe may be the Pac-12's leading scorer, but he doesn't believe that's why he was named Pac-12 Player of the Year on Monday.
Crabbe averages 18.6 points per game, but it was his realization that he doesn't need to score that turned him into more of a complete player this season.
"I realized it doesn't really matter if I score," Crabbe said Monday, just a few hours after learning he had been named the conference's top player for the 2012-13 season. "It's a team effort. I trust in my teammates to make plays. I just tried to find ways to get them involved."
Indeed, when the Bears became less dependent on Crabbe to score, they became better. During the final 11 games of the regular season, in which Cal went 9-2, Crabbe scored more than 16 points just three times. Twice, he didn't even reach double-digits, and both times those games ended up as victories.
"I'm happy or Allen," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "He came in as a highly touted freshman and worked himself up to being the conference leading scorer. But now he's doing other things. He's been drawing everybody's best shot all year long. He's had to work really hard to get anything done."
Crabbe is the third Cal player to be named Pac-12 Player of the Year in the past four seasons, joining Jerome Randle in 2010 and Jorge Gutierrez last year.
"I realized all the hard work I put into the offseason really does matter," Crabbe said. "I feel like I'm really blessed to be in this situation to be considered the MVP of this conference. I want to thank my team for sticking with me through my hardships. They've always been there to pick me up. I wasn't able to do this alone. And I want to thank the coaching staff for believing in me. I thank all of them for being there and trusting me."
In addition to Crabbe earning Player of the Year honors, teammate Justin Cobbs was named to the All-Pac-12 second team. Cobbs was disappointed to be left off the all-conference team last year, but now that he's on the second team, he has his sights set on more.
"I'm blessed to make the second team," Cobbs said. "At the same time, I want to reach the higher goal and make first team. There's room for improvement. I have to keep working. It's not a negative thing. I'm blessed to make second team. At the same time, now I have work to do."
Bill Walton may have attended UCLA, but at least part of his heart has always been in Berkeley.
The son of a Cal alum, Walton has spent many nights at the Greek Theatre watching his favorite band, The Grateful Dead, perform. His spirit, his philosophies - ooze the Berkeley culture. He even told UCLA basketball coach John Wooden he planned on spending the spring quarter in Berkeley every year (never happened).
That's why Walton was (and is always) in his element when he was on campus Wednesday. Prior to calling the Bears' game against Stanford on ESPN2, Walton addressed about 150students in the Haas Pavilion club room as part of his "Bill Walton Pac-12 Campus Tour," which took him to all 12 campuses during the past 10 weeks. Cal was the final stop on his journey.
"This is Berkeley, where anything is possible," Walton said during his 75-minute appearance. "This is where civilization began."
Walton touched on a variety of topics, telling stories about his time at UCLA and in the NBA, but also sharing inspirational messages with the students. Walton implored the students to make the most of their time in college and prepare themselves for the future.
"I was the highest-paid player in team sports, and my quality of life went down," Walton said of his time with the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers. "That's how great UCLA was."
The talk was moderated by Cal radio voice Todd McKim. Walton also took a few questions from students.
Walton reminisced about a charmed childhood, one that ended with major college programs doting over him. It continued on when he arrived at UCLA, where he was named National Player of the Year three times and led the Bruins to two NCAA championships.
"I was 21 before I encountered someone who didn't have my best interest at heart," Walton said.
Walton had fun with the Cal crowd, saying about the upcoming game: "The trees of Stanford have come. The fate of the world as we know it lies in the balance."
After his remarks, a huge line formed for autographs and pictures with Walton.
Walton traveled over 3,500 miles total during his bus tour.
The fourth annual "Jog For Jill" will be held this Sunday, March 10, beginning at the Kroeber Fountain at Noon. Registration begins at 11 a.m.
Jog for Jill is a yearly fundraiser put on by Jill's Legacy and the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation. The event honors Jill Costello, a former coxswain on the Cal women's crew, who passed away from lung cancer in 2010.
The 5K is open to runners, walkers, families and participants of all ages. Registration is $25 before the race, $30 on Sunday. The cost for kids ages 5-12 and seniors is $15. All participants who pre-register will receive a T-shirt. Those who register Sunday will receive T-shirts on a first-come, first-served basis.
The jog will take participants through campus and back to Kroeber Plaza, where a celebration of Jill's Legacy will take place. Cal is aiming to raise approximately $75,000 for Lung Cancer research through this event. Approximately $40-45,000 has already been raised through pre-registration.
Costello was diagnosed with lung cancer on June 6, 2009. Even with her illness, she competed in 2010 and led the Bears to the Pac-10 championship. She ended up being named Pac-10 Athlete of the Year and earned her degree in political economy.