By Sam McPherson
Both Bay Area men's basketball teams won their first games in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament on Wednesday in Las Vegas, but the two squads accomplished their tasks in very different ways. The California Golden Bears rolled the Washington State Cougars by 25 points, while the Stanford Cardinal needed a last-second shot to beat the Washington Huskies by two.
Either way, the Bears and the Cardinal are thrilled to be playing again on Thursday—albeit against significantly better competition—with a chance to impress postseason tournament selection committees. Cal is shooting for an invite to the National Invitation Tournament, while Stanford still is hoping to be selected for the NCAA Tournament.
The two teams will have to keep winning to impress those respective bodies, and it gets a lot tougher in Sin City today. The Bears will get a third crack at the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats, a team that's soundly flattened them twice already this year. Meanwhile, the Cardinal take on the Utah Utes, the third-seeded team in the Pac-12 tourney.
Stanford is advancing thanks to Chasson Randle's three-point shot delivered with just 2.4 seconds left to give the Cardinal (19-12) a huge 71-69 win. Despite not registering a single point from the free-throw line, a first in Pac-12 tournament history, the Huskies had a 69-68 lead in the final seconds before Randle made just his third shot on the night.
"I don't think about it," Randle told the media after the game. "Every shot is a new shot. You can't think about the last one. My teammates, they kept telling me to shoot. I believe in what they were saying, and I believe in myself. I was able to hit the big one."
Stanford will need that kind of confidence going forward, as they most likely need to beat Utah in order to get an NCAA bid. The Utes are ranked No. 17 in the country, and the Cardinal need that kind of signature win to get the attention of the selection committee after dropping seven games in February and March.
As for the Bears, they had no such late-game stress against the Cougars. Cal (18-14) led by 11 at halftime, and the game was never really close after that as the Bears made their first five shots in the second half on the way to an 84-59 victory. David Kravish scored a career-best 25 points, and Jordan Mathews added 19 points.
"We were moving," Cal Head Coach Cuonzo Martin told the press afterwards. "We were cutting. We were patient. But I thought we did a good job hitting off big guys rolling. We established David in the post. I thought that set the tone for us offensively if we're able to do that then our perimeter guys could play."
"Then we made shots," he added. "When you make shots, you always look good in most cases.
Indeed, the Bears shot 58.5 percent from the floor against the Cougars, and they will need to replicate that kind of success against the Wildcats on Thursday. It won't be easy, because Arizona is the No. 5 team in the Associated Press poll—and guaranteed to play a little better on defense than Washington State.
Cal has probably done enough to get itself into the NIT, but the Bears would love a little more glory in this Pac-12 event. They are flying high right now, with some confidence flowing, but it will take a Herculean effort to beat Arizona.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A's. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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