Four Games Separate Bears From Tourney Bid

Cal Plays Washington In Play-in Game For Another Shot at UCLA

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The Cal men's basketball team is still fuming about Saturday's crushing loss to No. 3 UCLA, in which the Bears squandered a late lead largely because of two controversial calls down the stretch.

Victory may have been snatched away from Cal on Saturday, but now the team is as focused as it has been all season and ready to seize what it believes it deserves: a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

To accomplish that monumental task and gain a rematch with the Bruins, the Bears must first defeat Washington at 6 p.m. at the Staples Center today in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament.

"We're still so revved up about that game that if we envision UCLA jerseys on the Washington players I'm sure we'll go right at them," forward Jamal Boykin said. "I want them bad. And it's not looking over Washington, but to be so close to beating UCLA and not winning, we want another opportunity."

Cal (15-14) will face UCLA at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow if it takes care of business against the Huskies. The Bears split the season series with Washington (16-15), which will likely be without Jon Brockman, its leading scorer and the Pac-10's top rebounder.

The junior is doubtful for the game after severely injuring his left ankle in overtime of the Huskies' 76-73 loss to Washington State last Saturday.

"For Jon Brockman not to play its gotta be something that's awfully

limiting or serious," Bears coach Ben Braun said. "He's just so tough."

Regardless of who is on the floor, Cal appears more than ready to get back out there and try and assuage its bitter feelings after last week's sweep at the hands of USC and the Bruins.

None of the Bears players are searching for moral victories, even though finishing the season with some momentum would be a good antidote for their frustrating 6-12 record in Pac-10 play.

They still have their eyes on the NCAA Tournament. With four straight losses to end the season, Cal finds itself squarely out of the NCAA-Tournament picture barring some heroics over the next four days.

Gaining an improbable berth would require four straight wins in four days at the Staples Center for the ninth-ranked Pac-10 team, starting today.

"Man I'll play 100. Whatever it takes to get into the Tournament," guard Patrick Christopher said. "We still have our eye on the prize."

This may be fellow sophomore Ryan Anderson's last chance to realize the joy of playing in the Tourney. The first-team, All Pac-10 performer is considering bolting for the NBA Draft after this season.

But for now, Anderson's singular focus is gaining some payback after the loss to UCLA.

"I've never seen a team so ready," Anderson said. "That game was ours and it was taken away and that's really, really frustrating and the team definitely recognizes that. Everybody is so frustrated and ready to go."

Both Anderson and Braun agree that the loss lit a fire under Cal that had been missing until now. Whether that desire and focus translates into four straight wins, or even a chance to gain a win over the Bruins in Los Angeles, remains to be seen.

But the feeling of despair in the bowels of Pauley Pavilion is not something the Bears want to repeat at Staples Center.

"I think that's the hardest I've seen our team take a loss," Braun said. "I saw a lot of guys in tears But I thought our spirit in practice was as good as it's been all year. There was emotion, there was drive."

The last-gasp drive to reach the NCAA Tournament begins today.


Contact Steven Dunst at [email protected]

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