With 22 seconds left in the game, the Cal men’s basketball team found itself down by two with a chance to take the lead for the first time since the opening four minutes of the game.
The Bears followed a late-game script that is familiar to both players and fans this late in the game. Justin Cobbs took the inbound as Richard Solomon set a high screen for the star point guard. Cobbs cut to his left, much like he did in early February when he made that game winning shot against Arizona. The senior point guard pulled up for a 20-foot jumper with a defender’s hand in his face.
This time, the shot didn’t go in. It bounced off the rim and fell into the hands of David Kravish, setting Cal up for a second attempt to tie or take the lead with time winding down. But Kravish, with a pair of Colorado defenders around him, fumbled the ball out of bounds, awarding possession to the Buffaloes.
Cal fouled Askia Booker, giving the Buffaloes a couple of free throw attempts but stopping the clock for the Bears. Booker made both his free shots, and Cobbs responded with a quick drive for a layup, keeping the Bears within two.
The next possession was much the same, only this time, the Bears fouled Eli Stalzer. Stalzer missed one of his free throws, giving the Bears a chance to tie with just six seconds left.
But Cobbs’ desperation three fell just short, clanking off the rim as the buzzer sounded. Colorado eliminated Cal from the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas on Thursday, 59-56.
Cal was playing from behind nearly the entire game — a familiar position for the Bears this season. But after trailing by as many as 13 in the first half, Cal clawed its way back to one-point deficits twice in the second.
“Second half, we got a little life and had multiple opportunities to get ahead,” said head coach Mike Montgomery. “We just made critical mistakes in critical situations”
The Bears could never capitalize. Colorado shot 44 percent for the game, but the difference was rebounding. The Buffs collected 38 boards, while the Bears only mustered 29. And 10 of Colorado’s rebounds came on the offensive glass.
“They outrebounded us pretty substantially,” Montgomery said.
As he usually does, Cobbs put in most of his production in the second half, scoring 16 of his 21 points in the latter period. He took all of the Bears’ shots in the final 2:24 of the game. And though he made nearly half of his shots and all of his free throws, the senior couldn’t will his team to victory this time.
“Games like that, teams that are fairly even, you have to make plays at critical times,” Montgomery said. “We’ve had problems with that throughout the year.”
The loss does more than eliminate Cal from the Pac-12 tournament — it may cost the Bears a chance at making March Madness. With no chances left to prove their worth, the Bears will be left to sweat out the days until Selection Sunday.