Pac-12 championship back in play for Cal

Thanks to a little help, Cal can win its second conference title in three years by beating Stanford on Sunday.

BERKELEY, Calif. – California assistant coach John Montgomery tweeted three words Saturday morning, three words representing a necessary step in the Golden Bears' hopes of winning the Pacific-12 Conference regular season title.

"Let's go Bruins."

UCLA obliged with a 75-69 win over Washington, giving Cal a chance to claim its second league championship in three years provided it defeats Stanford on Sunday afternoon at Maples Pavilion (2:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet Bay Area).

A win would also give Cal (23-7, 13-4 Pac-12) the top seed in next week's conference tournament in Los Angeles, holding the tie-breaker over the Huskies because of the 69-66 win in Seattle on Jan. 19.

"We have a chance to finish first and that's obviously a big deal," Cal head coach Mike Montgomery said. "Beyond that, you're just nitpicking."

There is no nitpicking with Cal's resume for the NCAA Tournament, still sitting at 36 in the RPI even after falling at Colorado last Sunday, but they aren't the only team in the Bay Area looking to bounce back after a loss.

The Cardinal (19-10, 9-8) has had a long week to stew after falling 58-57 to struggling Utah, a baffling turn of events days after throttling Colorado.

"It was kind of shocking," sophomore guard Allen Crabbe said. "It just shows that anything can happen in this conference."

Stanford couldn't miss against the Buffaloes, making 7-of-12 three-pointers in the first half and opening up a 20-point lead. Against the Utes, they could barely make a shot in the second half, shooting 28.6 percent from the field.

"Stanford shot lights out, just bang, bang, bang making threes. Raining them from everywhere early. Next thing you know Colorado is down 20 and Stanford played great," Montgomery said. "Then they go to Utah and probably not expecting Utah to be quite as competitive they get behind the eight ball."

Similar weakness in the second half by Stanford allowed Cal to come away with a 69-59 win in the first meeting Jan. 29 at Haas Pavilion, outscoring the Cardinal by 11 points over the final 20 minutes and buoyed by Crabbe's game-high 18 points.

But the last Pac-10 Freshman of the Year has been erratic the last two weeks, bouncing back and forth between dismal (eight points against Oregon on 2-of-10 shooting, three points at Utah on 0-of-6 shooting) and solid, with 16 points against Oregon State and Colorado.

Opponents are being more aggressive with Crabbe this season, trying to deny him the easy catch and shoot opportunities on which he thrives.

"I just have to understand and not get frustrated when I'm not getting into the flow of the offense," he said. "I just have to learn."

Still, Crabbe will be crucial throughout March, ranking fifth in the conference in scoring at 15.2 points per game and his 73 three-pointers this season is the third-most in school history.

He has been a major reason Cal has not lost consecutive games this season, a fact senior forward Harper Kamp takes tremendous pride from. But in tournament play, it only takes one bad effort to erase everything.

"If you don't come out every game and take care of business, there are no guarantees," he said.

Cal got a reprieve from UCLA and can guarantee a championship. Now they must take advantage of it with two words.

Beat Stanford.


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