Ugly ending to an ugly ending

Commentary: In a conference that looks more like a one-bid league, California doesn't make a strong closing argument it deserves to play in the NCAA Tournament.

LOS ANGELES – Based on how the Pacific-12 Conference performed in the non-conference, it looks like a one-bid league.

Based on how the Pac-12 Tournament has played out, with ugly play and uglier attendance figures at Staples Center, it feels like a one-bid league.

For California's sake, it better not be. Otherwise, the Golden Bears will find themselves being passed over for the NCAA Tournament in less than two days, the end result of a crushing 70-59 loss to Colorado in the semifinals Friday night.

Where to start, the defeat or the resume?

Regarding the latter, the Bears showed more fight than they did in the first 2:53 of the game as the Buffaloes jumped out to a 12-2 lead.

Head coach Mike Montgomery was almost apoplectic when asked if Cal had the credentials necessary to receive an at-large bid.

Said Montgomery: "Look, what do you need to do? 24 wins, single-digit losses. We have a decent RPI for whatever that means. We have three wins in conference over the three top teams. I mean, what do we need to do?

"If you can't make it with 13 wins in this conference, if you can't make it with 24 wins overall, then I don't know what we need to do."

But that resume, while taking on the challenge of games against Missouri, UNLV and San Diego State out of conference, lacks that signature accomplishment. Wins over Washington and Oregon are nice, but not earth shattering.

The case for Cal making the tournament comes down almost entirely to its computer profile and the assertion that the Pac-12, despite its record this season, is still a power conference.

If the decision-makers sequestered in Indianapolis decide it is only in brand name, then the winner of Saturday's final between Arizona and Colorado will be the only team left smiling on Selection Sunday.

It will be a long wait, one the Bears brought down on themselves.

"I would have been nervous win or lose," forward David Kravish said. "The fact is it's in somebody else's hands, but we did what we needed to do to make that argument to get in the tournament."

But Cal could have decided it on the court, taking the decision away from the committee by beating a Colorado team playing its third game in as many nights and had to have expended a huge amount of emotional and physical energy in its last-second win over Oregon on Thursday.

So what happened? The Bears came out flat. They couldn't even deny it or defend it.

"I think we weren't ready to play," guard Jorge Gutierrez said. "They were."

"They just played harder than us," said guard Allen Crabbe, who scored a game-high 18 points.

"It just seemed like every time we come out, we come out slow. We find ourselves behind trying to play catch up."

It happened in the losses at Colorado and Stanford that denied Cal the conference regular-season title. It happened in spite of knowing that the Buffaloes held the Bears to 57 and 50 points in their previous meetings.

Montgomery was even angrier having to deal with that again.

"To be honest, I'm kind of tired of hearing that," he said. "What are we doing? What's the point? How can you come out and not be ready? I don't get that. Obviously we looked like we weren't ready. We get down 12-2, it looked like they were having a walk in the park.

"We're in a tournament, you get three games to win it. That's your objective, try to win the tournament. I don't get that."

That should never happen on a team with so much at stake. That should never happen on a team playing for the right to ultimately call itself champions. That should never happen on a team that praises its senior leadership so highly, Kravish saying he wanted to make the NCAA Tournament "so bad for Jorge and (forward) Harper (Kamp)."

The basketball issues can be addressed. Cal committed 11 turnovers in the first half, after committing 14 in the first half against Stanford. That can be fixed. So too can the defensive breakdowns that allowed Colorado to shoot 59.1 percent in the second half, an even 50 percent for the game.

But this marked the fourth straight game where the Bears didn't show up with the right mindset. That might be defensible for a team playing out the season, simply trying to get things over with.

It cannot be tolerated for a team playing for a championship or a tournament bid.

Cal lost a Pac-12 title because of it. They may lose the right to play for the national championship because of it.

First impressions matter. Last impressions matter.

Cal is left hoping the selection committee will focus on everything in between.


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