Cal Has Date With Louisville in First Round of Big Dance

Photo: <b>Senior Theo Robertson</b> will be making his third appearance in the NCAA tournament as a member of the Cal men's basketball team. The two previous times, the Bears failed to advance past the first round of the tournament.
Anna Hiatt/File
Senior Theo Robertson will be making his third appearance in the NCAA tournament as a member of the Cal men's basketball team. The two previous times, the Bears failed to advance past the first round of the tournament.

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The press conference was long over and his team's fate had been sealed, but there was Jamal Boykin practicing jump shots alone in Haas Pavilion.

"Practicing visualization," the senior said.

His vision, a simple one, is to continue his season as long as possible.

The first obstacle to that appears in the form of Louisville when the Cal men's basketball team travels to Jacksonville, Fla., this Friday for its first round game of the NCAA Tournament.

After losing the Pac-10 Tournament title game to Washington on Saturday, the Bears (23-10, 13-5) were looking for at an-large bid and were granted an eighth seed in the South Region by the selection committee on Sunday.

Although Cal players never doubted the team would have a spot in the 65-team field, things got a bit tense when three regions had been announced and the Bears were still nowhere to be found.

"They didn't call our names until the last region, so I had to walk out a couple times to get my thoughts together," senior Jerome Randle said. "It was a relief when they finally did."

Despite losing to the Huskies on Saturday, Cal comes into its first-round game having won nine of its past 11. The Cardinals, meanwhile, lost in the first round of the Big East tournament and haven't strung together two consecutive victories since mid-February.

Still, with Rick Pitino at the helm, Louisville (20-12, 11-7) is not being underestimated by the Bears.

"Being a great team, you want to compete against great talent and they have that," senior Patrick Christopher said. "Their legacy has been established, and that's something we're trying to do here at Cal."

Christopher, along with his teammates, have indeed created a potential turning point in the program's history. Cal won its first-ever Pac-10 regular season title this year and will be making its second straight apperance in the tournament.

Last year, the Bears fell to 10th-seeded Maryland in the first round by the score of 81-74.

Coach Mike Montgomery said that the team didn't play at the level it should have and sent out a subtle statement of motivation for this year's potential slate of games.

"You're in a one-and-done deal," Montgomery said. "You should not walk off the court having felt like you didn't leave everything out there, shouldn't have any skin left on your knees and elbows, you should be bloodied up, and if you lose, you shake your opponent's hands, say good job and be on your way."

If Cal manages to leave it all on the court and notch a victory, it could face off with the No. 1 seed Duke-Boykin's former school.

"I do still talk to some of the guys, but I don't want to have that be the focal point," Boykin said. "The focus is Louisville."


Contact Jimmy Tran at [email protected]

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