Justin Cobbs stood at center court with his hands on his head. David Kravish hunched over in the paint, hands on his knees. Allen Crabbe leaned up against the scorers’ table, legs crossed.
The referees were checking how much time was left on the clock, but the Cal players all knew they were out of time.
“It hurts,” Crabbe said after the Bears’ 76-75 loss to No. 21 UNLV. “I don’t even know how to explain it. We were there.”
There were no moral victories for the Cal men’s basketball team on Sunday afternoon. It was a rebound performance, sure, coming a week after getting blown out of the gym at Wisconsin. Yet, with a chance for a marquee nonconference win, the Bears (6-2) fell one rebound short at Haas Pavilion.
Up one with 11 seconds left, Cal forced Rebels guard Anthony Marshall into a tough jumper, but Quintrell Thomas scooped up the airball, scored and was fouled with nine-tenths of a second to go. It was UNLV’s 13th offensive rebound of the game.
“I should’ve went out and got that rebound,” said Cal forward Richard Solomon. “I was boxing out, and I should’ve gotten up and got the rebound.”
The squads waited patiently as the refs put a few more ticks on the game clock, but 1.2 seconds was only enough time for a desperation jumper following Thomas’ purposely missed free throw and a Cal timeout.
“Games are won or lost on a play,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery. “If you’re gonna beat a good team, you’re gonna have to not have a glaring deficiency.”
More than the offensive glass, Montgomery was talking about free throws. The Bears shot 15-of-28 (53.6 percent) from the charity stripe.
With the game tied at 72 and under 40 seconds to go, Crabbe stepped to the line. An 87.5 percent foul shooter entering Sunday, Crabbe hit just one of two. He was 7-of-10 for the game.
“I can’t believe I missed three free throws,” Crabbe said. “I just keep thinking, ‘if I had made two free throws, we would’ve won the game.’”
Anthony Bennett — whom Montgomery referred to as a “monster” after a 25-point, 13-rebound performance — responded with a quick basket. Cal was down a point, 74-73. UNLV (7-1) fouled Cobbs on the next possession, and the junior guard hit both free throws with 11 seconds remaining.
That one-point lead, of course, would be short-lived.
“It was there,” Montgomery said. “That’s all you can ask, is a chance. I would’ve obviously preferred a two-point lead.”
The Bears had an eight-point lead early, as they opened the game with a 10-2 run. Despite losing star forward Mike Moser to a dislocated elbow five minutes into the contest, the Rebels tied the game up a few minutes later. The squads traded baskets until Crabbe picked up his third personal foul after elbowing Marshall.
“He flopped,” said Crabbe, who led the Bears with 18 points. “I didn’t even touch him.”
There was 6:49 left in the half, the score was tied at 28 and Cal was missing its top scorer. With Crabbe on the bench, UNLV used its free throw edge to go on a 17-10 run to close out the half. The Bears committed 11 fouls in the period, and four members of their seven-player rotation had two or more fouls.
So Montgomery decided to go zone in the second half.
“It slowed them down,” Montgomery said. “It kept us in the game.”
Fueled by two 3-pointers from Crabbe, Cal opened the half on a 9-3 run to narrow the deficit to 48-47. From that point on, it was never more than a two-possession game.
UNLV guard Bryce Dejean-Jones was clutch, tallying 22 points in Moser’s absence. Cal freshman Tyrone Wallace scored a career-high 13 points, including the basket that put the Bears in the lead with 2:38 to go.
They just couldn’t hold it.
Jonathan Kuperberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]