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."