Late heroics from Jabari Bird not enough for Cal as the Bears fall to No. 2-seed Utah in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals

LAS VEGAS -- Jakob Poeltl proves to be too much, as late heroics from Jabari Bird and 26 points from Tyrone Wallace can't stop the Austrian big man or the No. 2-seeded Utes from reaching the Pac-12 Tournament finals.

LAS VEGAS -- Two hours after No. 1-seed Oregon needed overtime to dispatch No. 4-seed Arizona, No. 3-seed California saw its would-be hero -- Jabari Bird -- who hit three three-pointers in the final five minutes of the Bears' Thursday game against Oregon State that either gave Cal the lead or tied the game -- ice the game with flying put-back off the glass and an and-one, with 4.3 seconds left to put the Bears up, 69-68. 

No. 2-seeded Utah had other ideas. Brandon Taylor ran, untouched, along the length of the court and finished with a lay-up, 0.1 seconds before the clock expired, sending the second straight game of the day into overtime, and putting the Utes on their way to an eventual 82-78 win.

"Both teams battled, both teams played hard; I just thought they made plays down the stretch," said head coach Cuonzo Martin. "Both teams made plays, but Poeltl made some big ones down the stretch. He made big baskets. I guess that's why he's MVP of the league."

After Kameron Rooks held the Pac-12 Player of the Year Jakob Poeltl scoreless when defending him in the first half, and then holding him to 1-of-5 shooting against him in the second half, defending the seven-foot Austrian took its toll, as Rooks was saddled with his fourth foul midway through the second half.

"I focused on keeping my hands off of him, not doing touch fouls, because that's what they were calling," Rooks said. "I kept my hands straight up, and he did a good job."

Poeltl had picked on Ivan Rabb and Kingsley Okoroh in the lane early, scoring all of Utah's first five points, but he didn't score against Rooks until a lay-up with 15:10 left in the game. Poeltl went 4-of-9 against Rooks in the second half, hitting three of his final four against a Rooks who was sitting on three fouls, before forcing Rooks to foul out with a minute to go.

"He's a tough player," Rooks said. "I did my best, tried to play as physical as possible without fouling, and obviously, I fouled out. He's a very good player. I respect his game."

With Rooks out of the game, Poeltl hit both his free throws to put the Utes up, 66-65 with 44.2 seconds left. To start the overtime period, he two of three against Okoroh, and scored five points.

Poeltl finished the night 10-of-18 for 29 points, with a 9-of-12 line at the free throw line, and 11 rebounds.

In the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal against USC, the Trojans chose to double Poeltl, but left themselves open to Kyle Kuzma, who went 10-of-11. The Bears, too, thought about doubling Poeltl.

"Oh, yeah, plenty, but we didn't want to give them open looks," Martin said. "They're a good shooting team. We felt like we'd take our chances. I felt we did a solid job, and he scored the ball, made plays, but we gave ourselves a chance to win the game." Rooks out of the game in overtime, Utah went 4-of-5 from the field and 4-of-7 from the free throw line, while the Bears went 3-of-8 from the field and 1-for-6 from beyond the arc -- a three by senior point guard Tyrone Wallace with 7.4 seconds left to get Cal within two.

"He just made the play," Martin said. "He attacked the rim and shot the ball. He was very aggressive. His three-point shot fell tonight, did a good job."

Wallace's three-point shot was hot on the night, and he went 3-of-7, while going 10-of-21 from the floor en route to a season-high 26 points, with six rebounds and one assist, becoming the ninth player in Cal history to score over 1,600 points.

"He shot 21 shots, but that's what they were giving him," Martin said. "They were really trying to push up on Jordan and Jabari, so Tyrone had to take those shots and make plays. I thought he did a good job."

Wallace and the Bears couldn't, however, get wings Bird and Jordan Mathews going from beyond the arc, as the two were 4-of-14 combined on the night, after Bird caught fire against Oregon State in the quarterfinals, going 5-of-7.

"That's Tyrone being Tyrone, being a senior leader, a big-time player," said freshman Jaylen Brown. "He performed."

In contrast to Poeltl and Wallace, Brown -- the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year -- was 3-for-17 from the floor.

"I think sometimes you miss shots, and you analyze why you're missing shots, but he'll be fine. He's just got to continue to compete, continue to play hard and get shots to go. Like any guy who scores the ball, he'll be fine."

Brown is now mired in his worst slump of the season, going 9-for-42 over the past four games.

"We've just got to get ready for the next one," he said. "Tough loss. We battled hard. Utah came out on top today."

Brown did tally four of the Bears' five assists in the first half, driving the lane and drawing defenders into the middle, and kicking the ball out to open shooters. Early in the game, he bullied his way into the paint, but then dished underneath to Okoroh for a two-handed dunk that answered a score by Poeltl.

"We just came up short," Brown said. "That's all that really matters. Individual performance doesn't show who won or lost the game. Utah came out on top today."

Wallace and Brown took 38 of Cal's 68 shots. night after Rabb scored 21 points and pulled down 15 rebounds, he didn't take a single shot in the second half until there were 7:52 left, after going 3-of-3 from the field in the first half. Rabb finally got a look at the basket with off a lob entry pass from Wallace, but he was fouled by Poeltl -- the third for the Austrian seven-footer. Rabb would miss his first shot of the second half at 6:22, but then Brown was fouled by Jordan Loveridge, and hit both of his free throws. 

Rabb's persistence down low helped the Bears weather an early storm by the Utes, as three-pointers by Taylor, Loveridge and Kuzma got the lead up to 14-4 early in the first half, before Poeltl and Kuzma exited 4:23 into the game.

"He made some plays," Martin said of Poeltl. "We tried to do our best job of defending him one-on-one, because we didn't want those guys getting three point shots around the perimeter."

After an initial 5-of-6 shooting run, with Cal unable or unwilling to close out on shooters on the outside -- focusing on Poeltl in the middle -- the Utes went 5-of-21 from the floor to finish the half.

Cal went on a 10-0 run, with a matching pair of midrange jumpers from Rabb on the right and left baseline, and a game-tying three by Mathews, to tie things at 14-14 before Poeltl re-entered the game.

The Bears' guards were easily able to get through Utah's screens, and Cal did have good help defense on Poeltl, trying to force him left, but it didn't work, at least, not for long. Neither did a clever ploy to drop bigs low in the post to neutralize Poeltl off the pick and roll.

Utah briefly took a 21-17 lead, but then Bird stepped in, hitting a three off an in-bounds pass from Sam Singer and then hitting a floater in the lane to re-take the lead, 22-21.

Like Bird, Mathews found the clutch switch, taking a coast-to-coast rebound off a missed three by Loveridge the length of the court, laying it in and drawing the continuation blocking foul on Isaiah Wright, giving Cal a 27-26 lead with four minutes left in the first half.

The Bears took a 37-33 lead into the break, and despite Brown's slump, the rest of the Bears were 14-of-23 in the first half, with Wallace going 5-of-8 from the floor and 3-for-4 from the free throw line. 

Perhaps most crucially, despite Brown's struggles, he didn't have a single turnover in the first half, as Cal had just one as a team, compared with Utah's four.

Within the first three minutes of the second half, Rooks stymied Poeltl twice in the paint, as the Bears kept Utah at arm's length. However, back-to-back lay-ups by Poeltl and Bonam gave Utah a 42-41 lead.

After an empty Cal possession, Loveridge missed two tries at the cup, and a three by Mathews put Cal back on top at 13:49, off of Brown's fifth assist of the night.

With the crowd's chants of "Jaylen's overrated" ringing in his ears, Brown then picked up a mid-court steal, and was hacked by Poeltl on his lay-up try, going to the line and hitting both tries from the charity stripe, before hitting a triple of his own with just over nine minutes left.

With 12:10 left, Rooks was dinged for his third foul, trying to defend Poeltl, but remained in the game until he was taken out at 9:18, which was soon followed by a three-pointer by Wallace.

After Brown picked up his fourth foul, Rabb got his third look of the second half, hitting a put-back after a missed Mathews three, and adding the and-one, pushing the lead up to 59-55.

The Bears and Utes then traded body blows, with Rabb ducking in off a Wallace feed for the bucket to answer a pair of free throws by Poeltl, and then Wallace hitting a floater in the lane to match a pair of free throw makes by Loveridge.

After Poeltl got Rooks's fifth foul, he hit both free throws, giving Utah a one-point lead with 44.2 seconds left. Wallace found a flashing Bird on the left elbow, and the junior out of Richmond (Calif.) Salesian hit a jumper to swing the lead back to Cal's side.

With 10.1 seconds left, Bird fouled Taylor on a loose ball off a Rabb block, and Taylor answered by hitting both of his free throws to give the Utes a 68-67 advantage, before he followed up Bird's tip-back with his full-court run.

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