BREAKDOWN: Deja Vu All Over Again

BREAKDOWN: Deja Vu All Over Again

LAS VEGAS -- California falls 59-56 as Colorado gains a measure of revenge for its one-point overtime loss in the season finale in Berkeley.

LAS VEGAS -- Justin Cobbs had his shot. He had the shot. After Richard Solomon came up with a help-side block on Josh Scott, leading to a shot clock violation and a turnover with under 30 seconds left, Cobbs curled to the left wing, caught the ball, turned and shot. It was the shot he hit against then-No. 1 Arizona. It was a shot he'd hit plenty of times.

It clanked. David Kravish -- who, at that point, had just two rebounds – grabbed the board, but the ball then flat-out dropped from his paws, and out of bounds underneath the basket.

Askia Booker iced a one-and-one, and though Cobbs made a coast-to-coast lay-in, Colorado was in control. Eli Stalzer made the first of his two free throws, and Cobbs attempted a wild three at the buzzer that fell sorely off-line, and cast the rest of the 2013-14 season into uncertainty, as California fell to the Buffaloes, 59-56 in the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament. Like Cobbs' shot, it was not the first time an early deficit was too big to overcome. It was not the first time that this team – perhaps the most athletic of head coach Mike Montgomery's tenure at California – wasn't tough enough.

"We didn't play hard enough," Montgomery said. "We weren't coming up with 50-50 balls. We were back on our heels."

When asked after the game if he considered Thursday's contest a play-in for the NCAA Tournament for the 19-13 Bears, Montgomery bristled.

"Did anybody who knows what they're talking about say that, or just people talking?" Montgomery asked back. "People talking, so they don't know and I don't know. There is a committee that knows, and I'm not on that committee. Can we compete in the tournament? Yes. Are there others that will be in that we're better than? Absolutely. But at this point it's out of our hands. The job needed to be done for sure before, so now we're at the mercy, and we've made it tough on ourselves."

It wasn't anything new. It was something we'd seen before.

After watching USC flail about beyond the three-point arc on Wednesday against Colorado's sagging defense, which dared the Trojans to shoot, Montgomery's Bears started out not by driving the lane, but by taking that dare and sticking to the outside in the half-court set, which is exactly what the Buffaloes said they wanted to do to the Trojans the night before. Both Cal and USC finished 5-for-22 from three-point land against Colorado.

"We have to do our jobs. We have to help each other and that helps us get out on the break where we're best, like most teams are best," Montgomery said. "We're not, I wouldn't classify us as a pure shooting team."

And yet, Cal continued to shoot, and along with that, give up the defensive glass, allowing 10 offensive rebounds by the Buffaloes and 10 second-chance points. As the Bears staff saw while watching Colorado and USC the night before, if the Buffaloes got extra possessions, they would capitalize, and that's exactly what they did on Thursday.

After Wallace kicked to Cobbs for a wide-open three to make the score 21-16, with 7:47 to go in the first half, a three by Booker clanked, but Xavier Johnson pulled down the offensive board, finding Xavier Talton, who in turn got the ball back to Booker for a trey against a mismatch thanks to Cal's switching defense. Booker then hit a runner in the lane to push the lead back to 10, scoring five straight points.

Johnson, for his part, wouldn't be denied, shooting absurd three's over the heads of Solomon and Kravish, both, going 4-for-7 from the field and 2-for-4 from three-point land for 10 points, adding a team-high eight rebounds.

It wasn't anything new. It was something we'd seen before.

"Teams that are fairly even, you have to make critical plays at critical times," Montgomery said. "We've had some problems with that throughout the year."

Talton – who hit two big shots the night before – was called upon several time to change or halt momentum against the Bears, and Cal paid him no heed. Talton had come in averaging less than five points per game, but poured in 13 as one of four different Buffaloes in double digits, including Booker – who scored a team-high 17 on 7-of-15 shooting.

Down 4-0 early, Talton was the one entrusted with the middle-of-the-lane runner to get Colorado on the board. After Tyrone Wallace cut the lead to five with just over 16 minutes left in the game, it was Talton who nailed a long two in the face of the Cal band to quiet the Bears faithful. After the under-16 time out, Talton nailed a three while the defense sagged on Booker and doubled big man Scott.

"That's something that I've come to do," said Talton, who shot 5-of-8 from the floor and 3-of-5 from three-point distance. "I try to spark us and give us a little energy on the offensive end, as well as the defensive end. As far as that three, I think it probably came at one of the big times."

As he did against USC, Scott got going late, as well, as Solomon petered out on the offensive end and Kravish did the same on defense. Solomon finished with 16 total rebounds, but just four points. Kravish – who set a single-season school record with his 64th block – scored 10 points, but pulled down just three rebounds, and none of them on the offensive boards, as the Bears were out-rebounded 38-29, just like they were out-rebounded last time out in Berkeley, 45-35.

Though Scott didn't fill up the stat sheet in the second half, he did frustrate Solomon enough to draw three fouls from the mercurial Bears big man, while going 3-of-4 at the free-throw line. In fact, free throws were the name of the game for the Buffaloes in the second half, as they hit 6-of-10, and 5-for-6 in the final four minutes.

Only in the second half did Wallace and Cobbs start driving the lane, and over the first 28 minutes, Cobbs had just five shots. In a do-or-die game, midway through the second half, Cobbs had just five shots. Wallace was 3-of-8, and 1-for-4 from three.

From that point on, though, Cobbs went 5-for-10 as the transition game finally got going, and the Bears were able to reel Colorado back to within one point with 6:39 left in the contest thanks to a steal and coast-to-coast lay-in from Cobbs at the expense of Talton.

But, again, Cal could not keep the momentum going, despite several keep-afloat minutes from Sam Singer, who spelled Wallace after several poorly-selected three-point tries.

Singer had several key defensive plays and dished out two assists in his first three minutes of play. He finished+4 for the afternoon, and was one of just three Bears players to finish in positive numbers in +/-, playing in just 10 minutes.

Cobbs answered just one question in the post game press conference. Asked if the offensive difficulties in the first half – where Cobbs went just 2-for-4 and the Bears shot 10-of-26 as a team, trailing 31-22 – ultimately wound up costing the game, Cobbs said, "No. It's just energy."

Cobbs looked down, dead-eyed.

"We didn't have any energy, so we lost."

It wasn't anything new. It was something we'd seen before.

"As a team, I think we were a bit slow in the first and picked it up in the second half," Kravish said. "It just wasn't enough."

It wasn't enough during the late-season stretch where the Bears lost eight of 12 games before the overtime win against the Buffaloes in Berkeley. It wasn't enough on Thursday afternoon in Las Vegas.

"The things that you know you don't do and the things that you know you struggle with a little bit always come back to haunt you," Montgomery said. "I thought we didn't play hard enough, first half. I thought they competed harder than we did, probably coming off the fact that they lost to us. We were kind of back on our heels a little bit. They outrebounded us pretty substantially. In the second half, we got a little life and had multiple opportunities to go ahead, but just made critical mistakes in critical situations, whether it be good defense and a missed rebound, even with one possession left. Rebound the ball, we had probably a couple of opportunities to score. Missed free throws at times; you can't miss free throws."

The Bears will learn their fate – whether they continue on into the NCAA Tournament or to some other postseason – on Sunday, at 3 p.m. Pacific, on ESPN.

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