Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, March 18, 2013 | 2 a.m.
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The brackets are out and the Las Vegas Sun sports team is here to discuss UNLV's draw as the 5-seed in San Jose, Calif., and a rematch with Cal.
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The headline on the official website for the Cal basketball teams says it all: “Bears Stay Local, Face UNLV in San Jose.”
That’s about a one-hour drive from the Berkeley campus, giving 12-seeded Cal one big advantage against UNLV on Thursday when they meet in the NCAA Tournament's second round. Additionally, it’s the Golden Bears’ first tournament game in the Pacific time zone since 1950.
“I thought we were going to play in Philadelphia or Austin, Texas,” Cal’s Allen Crabbe told the San Jose Mercury News on Sunday. “It’s like a home game for us.”
The teams played in mid-December at Cal, with No. 5 seed UNLV winning 76-75 on a buzzer-beater from Quintrell Thomas. Considering the selection committee typically goes out of its way to avoid rematches during the first week of the tournament, a rematch with UNLV was a pleasant surprise for the Cal players.
Judging by their comments to the Mercury News, it’s a game they believe is winnable.
“We want revenge,” Cal senior Robert Thurman said. “The way they slipped out of our fingers last time was a fluke.”
Cal, which is playing in its fourth NCAA Tournament in five years, enters having lost two straight games — Senior Night at home against rival Stanford and last week in the Pac-12 Conference tournament quarterfinals against Utah.
Last year, Cal had a poor showing in the tournament, scoring just 13 first-half points against South Florida in the first year of the tournament’s “First Four” games when the field expanded to 68 teams.
Talk about playing for redemption.
With one victory, the Cal players can erase the hard feeling from the close UNLV loss earlier this season and the poor result in last year’s tournament.
“I think our attitude will be good going into the game. I think we’ll be fired up,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery told the Mercury News. “Whether that’s enough, we’ll see.”
Cal finished the season 20-11 and took fourth in the Pac-12 with a 12-6 league mark. Before dropping its past two games, Cal had a seven-game winning streak and held opponents to 46 points in three of those wins. They are 6-6 against the nine tournament teams it has faced.
Cal’s backcourt is its strength with juniors Crabbe, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, and Justin Cobbs leading the way. Crabbe averages 18.6 points per game and was the league’s leading scorer, and Cobbs scores 15.5 points and dishes out 4.8 assists per contest. Cobbs was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection.
They’ll be priority No. 1 in the UNLV defensive effort.
“We have to do a better job guarding the 3-point shooter, and that will be a premium when you think about Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “Those are guys who can light it up from the outside.”
On the interior, sophomore David Kravish has started all of the team’s 31 games and was fifth in the Pac-12 with 1.7 blocks per game and 11th with 6.9 rebounds per game. He’ll have his hands full guarding UNLV’s best player, Anthony Bennett, who had 25 points and 13 points in the previous meeting.
Unlike last year, Cal’s players are promising a better effort. In the tournament loss to South Florida, they admit not being mentally prepared.
“When everybody is fired up and ready to go is when we’re at our best,” Crabbe said