UPDATED at 9:03 p.m.
LAS VEGAS -- After scoring 46 points in the first two games of the Pac-12 Tournament, California senior Jabari Bird had his chance for a crowning moment in the semifinal against No. 1 seed Oregon. The Bears needed a win over the Ducks to give them a chance at the NCAA Tournament, and a measure of redemption from last season's first-round NCAA exit, after Bird's back spasms 10 minutes before tipoff against No. 13-seed Hawaii upset then-No. 4-seed Cal. Bird blamed himself.
Instead of catharsis, though, Bird and the Bears found heartbreak. Just 1:05 into Friday's game against the Ducks, Bird left his feet to contest a shot by Jordan Bell. The crouching Bell lifted up as Bird went airborne, and Bird was launched off of Bell's shoulders, landing head-first on the floor. Bird sustained a cut on the side of his head.
Stanching the bleeding with a towel, Bird was taken to the locker room, and was evaluated for a concussion. He did not return, and was sent to University Medical Center at UNLV.
Cal proceeded to fall, 73-65, ending its Pac-12 Tournament run.
"When I saw him on the ground, I didn't know what was going on, and we didn't have time to think about it," said sophomore forward Ivan Rabb.
As Bird fell, so fell Cal's chance to make an impact on the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.
Cal, at 21-12 overall, went 1-7 against teams in the top 50 RPI this season. The Bears were within two points in the final 20 seconds against then-No. 12 Virginia, but lost 56-52 on Dec. 23, 2016. Cal led then-No. 18 Arizona by as many as eight in the second half, and 13 in the first half at home on Dec. 30, 2016, and were within four with under three minutes to play. The Bears lost, 67-62. Against these same Ducks on Feb. 22, Cal led by as many as 16, and led by 10 with 4:15 to go, but lost on Dillon Brooks's last-second three.
On Friday, Cal lost not on a Brooks three, but on a pair of fouls in the final 23 seconds. With 22.6 seconds to go, and Cal down by two, Dylan Ennis drove right and bumped hips with Kingsley Okoroh on a lay-up.
"He jumped into me," said Okoroh, who was one of Thursday night's heroes. "He initiated the contact. I just let it be. The refs made a decision."
Ennis hit the and-one. 20 seconds later, he was fouled again, this time on the defensive end. He hit both. Then, Pac-12 Player of the Year Brooks hit one of two. The No. 2-seed Ducks (29-4) move on to the Pac-12 finals against either No. 3-seed UCLA or No. 1-seed Arizona.
"They did a great job competing, and that's what they're supposed to do, but it's a big loss, especially on the offensive side of the ball," head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "You have guys playing multiple minutes, more minutes than they usually play, against a team of that caliber."
Without Bird, nobody could guard Tyler Dorsey. The sophomore shooting guard had gone 5-for-18 from the field in his last two meetings with the Bears, but hit his first 5 shots from beyond the arc, and 9 of his first 12.
"Well, he's a good player. He's a good player," Martin said. "They have good players around him, so you give up something against those guys. And that's what talented teams -- they have multiple guys that can make plays. We don't go into the game saying there's one guy we have to stop. They have good players. They have guys that can make shots. They can score at the rim. They stretch you out with the three-point shooting. But other guys defending them well. But it was his night tonight. He played well."
Sophomore JuCo transfer Dontae Coleman was charged with finding a way to stop Dorsey, and he failed to close out and run the Los Angeles native off the line. He finished with a game-high 23, while Coleman struggled, forcing drives and showing little patience with the ball, missing his first five straight shots and fouling out at the 5:12 mark. One of those infractions was a Flagrant 1, as he tackled Dylan Ennis with 8:07 to go, after one of the Bears' 11 turnovers.
Seven of those turnovers came from freshman Charlie Moore, who scored 10 first-half points to keep the Bears afloat, but only scored five after the break.
Moore and Grant Mullins scored a combined 38 of the Bears' 65 points, and outside of those two, the Bears went 10-of-31 from the field. Mullins's 23 points were a career high, as he went 7-of-8 from the field, and hit all five of his attempts from beyond the arc.
"A lot of my shots were off of broken plays, and Charlie and those guys were able to find me," Mullins said.
Without Bird -- who had averaged 16.0 points and 4.9 rebounds over his last seven games, shooting 42.2% from three-point range -- the Bears had to, at times, field a lineup featuring just one scorer -- Mullins.
"It's tough, it's tough to see a guy go down like that," said Mullins, who missed a year at Columbia due to lingering head and neck issues, which necessitated his transfer to Cal. "I've actually had problems with head injuries before, so I know what he's feeling, and I know what he's going through."
That lineup of Roger Moute a Bidias, Mullins, Kingsley Okoroh, Dontae Coleman and Sam Singer only scored six points -- on back-to-back threes by Mullins, one off the break with Singer -- but held the Ducks without a field goal from 6:50 to 2:31 in the first half. But, with a three by Ennis with 2:31 to go, Oregon knotted things up at 29-29, and then took a 36-33 lead into the intermission.
Out of the break, in quick succession, Pac-12 Player of the Year Brooks drew one of six fouls by the Ducks in the first 2:26 of the game. That was one of five fouls in a total of 10 seconds of game time, and Brooks's fourth, with 18:03 to play.
Even with Brooks off the floor, though, and the Ducks playing at a far more deliberate pace out of an abundance of caution, Cal went 4:45 without a field goal, played loose on defense (committing five fouls in the first four minutes after Brooks exited) and got down by as many as 13 with 12:58 to go in regulation.
Brooks was gone for nearly 13 minutes, but Cal could not gain ground. Once he returned, the lead had ticked up, from five points to seven, and Cal didn't score a single field goal in the final 2:57 of regulation.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1761992-postgame-video-ore..."That's the sign of a good team," Martin said. "They can play five, six, seven, eight guys. They're a good team."
The Bears out-scored the Ducks 16-6 off of turnovers, and scored 10 second-chance points to the Ducks' seven, but Oregon was able to keep Rabb out of the paint, despite Cal's attempts to isolate him on the block.
"I've been dealing with that all year, so I tried to take care of the ball and get the best shot possible, but Oregon did a good job of walling off," Rabb said.
Asked about his NCAA Tournament chances, Martin said that he believes his Bears are a tournament team.
"I don't care with what they say; it's a whole season, a body of work," he said. 'I didn't think we went into this game thinking we needed to win it to get into the NCAA Tournament. We went into this game trying to win, so we could win the Pac-12 Tournament."