LAS VEGAS — It did not matter that the Cal men’s basketball team had beaten Utah twice comfortably during the regular season. The Pac-12 tournament is a completely different animal.
In a tournament chalk full of down-to-the-wire action, the Bears’ Thursday quarterfinal matchup was no exception, as the tenth-seeded Utes forced overtime before inexplicably shocking No. 2 seed Cal, 79-69.
The Bears (20-11), who lost to Stanford to end the regular season, will stew over their late-season collapse while waiting until Sunday afternoon to find out their NCAA tournament fate.
“Upsets happen,” said Allen Crabbe. “We can’t do anything about it now. We just got to come together as a group and focus on whatever’s next for us.”
Crabbe may have been the Pac-12 Player of the Year, but Utah’s Jarred DuBois was the best player on the court. DuBois, who scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, sunk a 3-pointer with four seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime.
“Once I saw JD hit that shot, I felt like I had to back him up,” said Utah forward Jordan Loveridge, who scored eight of his 20 points in overtime. “We’re right there. Why not go out and get it?”
The Utes (15-17) scored a whopping 20 points in overtime against a Cal squad that had been stout defensively until its last two games. The Bears’ 15 offensive rebounds could not make up for allowing Utah to shoot 47.3 percent from the floor.
At the MGM Grand Garden Arena, in front of a crowd with considerably more Utah fans, Cal seemed to be on cruise control against the Utes, who were coming off an upset of USC the previous night.
Cal was playing catchup for most of the first half, perhaps a little rusty in its first game since a stinging loss to Stanford more than a week ago. The Utes started the game off hot, as DuBois, coming off his 22-point explosion the day before, poured in eight points in the first three and a half minutes.
“We didn’t do enough to take that confidence away from them,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery of Utah’s quick start. “All of a sudden we were in for a tough ball game.”
The Bears never fell too far behind; in fact, they held Utah scoreless for nearly seven minutes early in the second half, scoring eight in a row to take a 44-36 lead. That was Cal’s chance to gain a commanding cushion, and the Bears did not take advantage.
The Utes came right back with an 8-2 streak of their own to erase most of Cal’s lead. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Loveridge actually put Utah ahead, 50-48, with under seven minutes remaining.
“Some of the decisions we made, in a time when we couldn’t afford to make a mistake, ended up really costing us,” Montgomery said.
The game was neck and neck until Justin Cobbs drilled a 3-pointer with just under two minutes remaining, the apparent dagger. Crabbe made three of four free throws down the stretch, but Cal’s lead was only three, leaving the door open for DuBois.
Montgomery admitted after the game that he made a mistake and should have called a timeout to tell his team to foul on that final possession of regulation.
“When it went to overtime, their confidence went sky high, and I think our chin went to our chest,” he said.
Cobbs and Crabbe led Cal with 26 and 21 points, respectively. No other Cal player reached double digits.