A dejected Allen Crabbe sat in front of the room and tried to explain how California let a golden opportunity slip away against UNLV in the final seconds.
"It was a perfect day to show what we can do," he said softly, "and it came down to one play. We just made a defensive play ... we were right there."
Instead, Quintrell Thomas grabbed Anthony Marshall's airball under the basket and scored on a short hook shot with 1.2 seconds remaining to lift No. 21 UNLV to a 76-75 win over California on Sunday.
"Defensively we got what we wanted," Golden Bears' coach Mike Montgomery said. "We got an airball, in fact. Either we fell asleep or we were mismatched."
Cal junior forward Richard Solomon, who matched his season high with 14 points in addition to his team-leading eight rebounds, took the blame for the miscue. The Runnin' Rebels (7-1) grabbed 13 offensive boards and outrebounded the Bears 38-30.
"I should have went out and got that rebound," he said. "I was boxing out, but rebounding is a mindset. We have to be more physical on the defensive end."
California (6-2) has lost two straight. The Bears were trying to beat a Top 25 team at home for the first time in more than three years.
"One of our Achilles heels is giving up offensive rebounds," Montgomery said. "We're not reacting all the time."
The Runnin' Rebels led for most of the second half but trailed 75-74 following two free throws by Cal's Justin Cobbs with 11.9 seconds left. Marshall then rushed a long jumper that Thomas alertly grabbed and flipped in. Thomas was fouled on the play but missed the free throw. Justin Hawkins then blocked a 3-point attempt by Cobbs from midcourt as the buzzer sounded.
Anthony Bennett had season-highs of 25 points and 13 rebounds and led UNLV to its sixth straight win. Bryce Dejean-Jones also had a career-best 22 points.
"He's pretty good," Solomon said of the Runnin' Rebels' leading scorer. "We could have done a better job on him. He made a lot of plays by outhustling us."
Crabbe led California with 18 points, freshman Tyrone Wallace scored a season-best 13, and Cobbs finished with 11.
"I can't believe I missed three free throws," Crabbe said. "If I make two of them, we win."
The Bears shot just under 54 percent from the foul line (15 of 28). UNLV made 19 of 27.
The Rebels weren't sharp offensively early and trailed most of the first half. They made up for it by dominating the boards despite losing leading rebounder Mike Moser to a dislocated right elbow less than five minutes into the game.
Cal backup center Robert Thurman's putback gave Cal a 72-70 lead before Bennett tied it with a thunderous one-handed dunk from the baseline.
Crabbe made a free throw to break the tie, but Bennett followed with a 15-foot jumper to put the Rebels up 74-73. Cobbs then made two free throws after being fouled by Marshall, setting the stage for Thomas' game-winner.
UNLV, which beat Cal 85-68 on Dec. 23, 2011, leads 5-1 in the series.
Cal played a long stretch of the first half without its best player. Crabbe went to the bench for the final 6:49 after picking up his third foul.
UNLV led 45-38 at halftime.
The Bears fell behind by nine early in the second half before rallying behind Crabbe.