March 19, 1999
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - The California Bears, who needed incredible comebacks to reach the NIT quarterfinals, got off to a quick start for once - and then struggled to handle their early success.
The Bears, who used double-digit rallies to win their opening two NIT games, had a 26-2 run in the first half and survived a second-half scare from Colorado State to defeat the Rams 71-62 Thursday night and reach the NIT semifinals.
California blew a 21-point second-half lead over the Rams, who briefly took the lead twice while holding the Bears to one basket in a 14 1/2-minute span. But the Bears scored the final 10 points of the game.
"Everybody kept complaining about our starts. I was really pleased with the way we kept our intensity at the start," California coach Ben Braun said. "We expended a lot of energy to get that lead and you could see a pretty tired team, and it kind of caught up with us in the second half."
California will face Oregon in the semifinals next Tuesday in New York, the Bears' first trip to Madison Square Garden since losing to Ohio State in the NCAA semifinals in 1946. Oregon defeated California in the regular-season finale to ruin the Bears' hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament.
Michael Gill tied his career high with 18 points for California (20-11), which lost twice this season to Pac-10 peer Oregon. The other NIT semifinal will be Xavier against Clemson.
"We need to jump on Oregon because they took us out of the NCAA race. I know I'm going to take that game personally," Gill said. "I kind of felt we'd meet up again."
Gino Carlisle added 15 points for the Bears, who reached the NIT semifinals for the first time. California was 15-2 this season at the Oakland Arena, its temporary home while its campus arena is renovated and enlarged.
Carlisle said blowing a lead was not a new experience for the Bears.
"This is something we've been doing throughout the season, but this was the biggest scare. We just had NIT jitters," he said with a laugh.
Milt Palacio had 19 points and Andre McKanstry added 17 for the Rams (19-11), whose successful season earned first-year coach Ritchie McKay a five-year contract extension earlier this week.
"There were no Knute Rockne speeches at halftime. We just said, Is this the way we want to go out?"' McKay said. "Our team is pretty good when we don't have turnovers. We had 14 in the first half and only three in the second half."
California overcame a 13-point deficit in the final 15:30 to beat Fresno State 79-71 in the NIT's first round, and fell behind by 17 points in the first half Tuesday at DePaul before rallying to win 58-57.
The Rams took a 9-4 lead in the opening two minutes against California, but the Bears then scored 14 straight points - holding Colorado State scoreless for 7:23.
Colorado State finally scored to make it 18-11, but the Bears then went on another 12-point run to take a 19-point lead. During its 26-2 run, California had seven steals and blocked three shots.
The Bears led 37-20 at halftime, with Gill topping all scorers with 12 points in the half. Colorado State shot just 26 percent in the first half, compared to 53 percent for California.
Carlisle's three-point play with 16:06 remaining in the second half gave California a 47-29 lead and led to smiles of satisfaction among the Bears. But California did not score a basket for the next 6:46, and the Rams went on a 19-3 run - including back-to-back 3-pointers by Palacio and Erik Smith - to pull within two points.
The Rams got to 50-48 with 7:34 left when California's Sean Lampley shoved Colorado State's David Fisher in the back during a stoppage of play. That resulted in a technical foul, which the Rams turned into three points.
The Bears held onto a slim lead by making free throws, but the Rams finally took the lead on a dunk by Shawn Harris with 5:51 left. California regained the lead at the foul line, but Colorado State again took the lead at 62-61 with 2:01 left on a baseline jumper by Fisher.
Boyd responded with a three-point play with 1:40 left, though, to put California up 64-62 and Carlisle's short jumper with 55 seconds left made it 66-62. Carlisle added two free throws with 36 seconds left to increase the margin to six points.
By ROB GLOSTER
NIT QUARTERFINAL POSTGAME QUOTES
COLORADO STATE AT CALIFORNIA
March 18, 1999 - Oakland, Calif.
California head coach Ben Braun
"I thought this was a win for Bay Area fans. We are the last Bay Area team to be in a tournament. We're happy about that. For our fans, what a great way to go out of the Arena with a win this year and going into next season at the new Haas Pavilion with their support. It means the world to us"
"Everyone kept complaining about our starts. So as a coach, I had to go back with our staff. We had to prove we could come out strong. I was very happy with the intensity we came out with. When you come out with intensity against good teams, you have to know that they're going to make runs at you. We expended a lot of energy to get that lead. We were a very tired team-a team that didn't practice yesterday and had to travel for 11 straight hours the other day. And, it kind of caught up with us in the second half."
"That's a program (Colorado State) that's going somewhere. Ritchie McKay has done a great job. To all of our fans that watched the game tonight, they nailed some tough shots down the stretch. Our guys were defending, we were in their faces, but they nailed some awfully tough shots. When they had opportunities to run transition at us, they scored. We didn't have enough time outs for my liking, but we did get a couple in there to break the momentum, especially when they came all the way back to take the lead."
Colorado State head coach Ritchie McKay
"I give credit to Cal. They have a very good basketball team. They got down 9-4 and then went on a great run. They were very impressive in the fist half."
"Our team is pretty good when we don't turn the basketball over. We had 14 first half turnovers, and we only had 3 in the second half, 2 in the last minute. I thought that was the difference in the game, the way they turned up the pressure and played more physically. That got them over the hump."
"Our team has a lot of character and a lot of heart. Anytime you have a team that wins 20 games, there is usually a reason for that. (In the second half), our guys just put it together and started making some shots. We took care of the basketball and got back into the game through that."