BERKELEY — Within eight days, the Cal men’s basketball team knocked off two top-10 opponents and now the Bears are suddenly contenders for an NCAA Tournament berth in March.
With victories over No. 9 Arizona and No. 23 Oregon, the Bears (14-9, 6-5 Pac-12 Conference) now have two signature wins and they will get a chance to further bolster their résumé when another Pac-12 heavywight, UCLA (18-6, 8-3), storms into Haas Pavilion tonight.
“If we just play the way we played against Arizona — the whole 40 [minutes] — we feel like we really have a chance at moving up into first by the time this whole thing is said and done,” forward Allen Crabbe said.
Despite the victory, Cal would still likely need to win at least six of their last seven Pac-12 games and put together a strong showing in the conference tournament to get a sniff of March Madness this year.
But the schedule works in their favor. The Bears will play five of their last seven games on their home court.
“We have to go 5-0 at home and see what we can do on the road,” guard Justin Cobbs said. “I’m pretty confident that we can get two on the road, so I say if we’re 7-0, we’re in.”
Crabbe comes alive: No one questions Crabbe’s ability to put the ball in the basket. He’s led the Pac-12 in scoring since conference play tipped off, but he’s also shouldered much of the blame for Cal’s inconsistent play this season.
The junior forward is usually the focal point of opposing defenses and, at times, the 20-year-old’s mental toughness has been questioned.
But Crabbe showed up and carried his team to victory in Arizona, knocking down 12-of-15 shots while scoring a total of 31 points.
“It’s all up to me,” Crabbe said. “Nobody’s going to hold me back but myself. If I don’t come into the game with the right mindset, then I probably won’t be as aggressive as I was against Arizona.”
Crabbe turned the ball over twice in the last 41 seconds of Cal’s 66-62 loss at Arizona State on Thursday and he said the experience motivated him to do whatever he could to help his team win against the Wildcats.
“I just wanted to go out there and make all the plays that I could,” Crabbe said.
He said the game in Tempe was a learning experience that could prove to be a turning point.
“To be in a situation like that where the ball was in my hands to make a play for my team and then I turned it over twice,” he said. “It just sat with me the wrong way.”