Making the short trip to the HP Pavilion in San Jose, the 12th-seed California Golden Bears will challenge the fifth-seed UNLV Runnin' Rebels in second round East Regional action of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
California enters this contest at 20-11 as one of five teams to make the field out of the Pac-12. A year ago California was the lone Pac-12 team in the tourney but it didn't defend the league well with a loss in the first round. The Golden Bears won seven straight games from February to March to earn this bid but they have lost each of their last two games by double digits, including a 79-69 upset by Utah in the Pac-12 Tournament.
UNLV is making its fourth straight at-large appearance in the NCAA Tournament. This year the Rebels almost earned the Mountain West Conference's automatic bid but they fell short in the league tournament final against New Mexico, 63-56. UNLV owns a 25-9 record overall, making it seven straight years in which they have reached 20 wins with six of those campaigns ending with at least 25. UNLV is 33-18 all-time in the NCAA Tournament but a year ago they were sent home early with a second round setback against Colorado.
These teams already met once this season. If that contest is any indication this should be one for the ages. UNLV edged California, 76-75, in Berkeley on a putback from Quintrell Thomas with a second left on the clock. The Rebels have now won five of six total meetings. Whichever team comes out on top on Thursday will advance to take on either fourth-seed Syracuse or 13th-seed Montana.
Despite 47 combined points from Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe the Golden Bears were still upended by Utah, 79-69, in overtime during the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals. The teams battled all through regulation but in the extra session the Golden Bears collapsed as they allowed the Utes to connect on all three shots from the field and 13-of-16 from the free-throw line to pull away.
Crabbe (18.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg) was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year this season and is without a doubt the focal point for the Golden Bears. The 6-foot-6 guard has the size to get his shot off anywhere, while also putting up some solid efforts on the glass. Cobbs (15.7 ppg, 4.8 apg) is a strong scorer in his own right, while also being the top facilitator on the roster. In the frontcourt David Kravish (8.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and Richard Solomon (8.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) excel in complementary roles as each rebounds well and shoots better than 45 percent from the floor.
The Rebels fought tooth and nail against New Mexico but in the end couldn't get enough shots to fall to grab the win. The Rebels connected on just 33.9 percent of their tries from the field in the contest which negated their 41-29 edge on the boards.
UNLV is a team that can get up and down the floor and score, as it nets 71.7 points per game, while ranking among the top 10 teams in the nation in assists (16.2 pg). The Rebels are also sixth in the country in rebounds (40.1 rpg). That has been very useful considering they hold foes to just 38.8 percent shooting. Anthony Bennett (16.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg) is the top scoring option on a team that features four players scoring in double figures. Anthony Marshall (10.5 ppg, 5.8 apg) is another one of those contributors but has been more valuable for his efforts in facilitating.