Bears Still Cling To Tourney Hopes





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The Cal men's basketball team and head coach Ben Braun are clinging to the hope that this weekend's two-game series against Arizona State and Arizona could have NCAA Tournament implications.

They're absolutely right.

Tonight's game with the Sun Devils is a do-or-die affair for one team's Tourney hopes, but that team probably isn't the Bears (16-12, 7-9 in the Pac-10).

Despite Braun's assertions that his team could make the Tournament with a pair of weekend wins, the Bears' bubble is thin at best.

"If we can beat Arizona State and Arizona we would have 18 wins and some of them against some quality teams," Braun said. "18 wins and a .500 league record is a pretty good record in this league."

Instead it's ASU (17-11, 9-7) that stands poised to capture a Tourney berth with a victory over Cal tonight and a strong showing against Stanford on Saturday.

"I think we are a team that's good enough to be in the NCAA Tournament," ASU coach Rob Evans said. "I think we are one of the teams that should be strongly considered for the Tournament."

Meanwhile, barring a miracle road sweep and a UCLA meltdown against Washington and Washington State, Cal will likely be relegated to that other postseason dance - the National Invitational Tournament.

In fact, almost in betrayal of Braun's claims that his team is not yet out of the race, the Cal athletic ticket office has already started selling tickets for a possible first-round NIT game at Haas to be played March 15, 16, or 17.

In the face of overwhelming odds, Braun and Co. still remain optimistic about this weekend's trip. The Bears feel that with a weekend sweep they will have put themselves in position to gain a Tourney invitation, whether the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee agrees or not.

"If (we win both games) and we don't get in, that is out of our control," Braun said. "But until then we have to believe we can get in."

That being the case, Cal's first mission this weekend is to figure out a way to stop the Sun Devils' Eddie House. The senior guard lit the Bears up for a Pac-10-record-tying 61 points in the teams' Jan. 8 meeting in Berkeley. ASU went on to win that game in double overtime after House hit an off-balance three pointer at the end of regulation.

"(House) just thrives on adversity and thrives on pressure," Evans said of his star player and possible conference player of the year. "He is a very, very intelligent basketball player. Nobody works harder than him."

House is just 52 points shy of becoming only the 13th player in Pac-10 history to score 2,000 points in his career. The Bay Area native will likely reach that plateau sometime this weekend.

But more important for House is the Tournament berth that will likely come with a victory over Cal tonight. House understands that he must continue to excel for his team to be successful.

"I have learned a lot about how to beat gimmick defenses," House said about the defensive sets that opposing teams have thrown at him in an effort to limit his production. "I know I have to play well for us to win, and I am prepared to do that."

Of course, Braun and the Bears know all too well what House can do when he gets hot, and they will do everything they can to keep him from ending their Tourney hopes.

"Eddie House has had a great year," Braun said. "What he's done for his team has just been incredible."

If Cal can stop House and sneak by ASU tonight, they will face an even more daunting task against Arizona (24-6, 13-3) at the McKale Center on Saturday.

The Wildcats will be coming off an emotional Thursday night game against Stanford that will determine the conference champion. Arizona will either be seeking revenge or showing off for its fans against Cal Saturday.

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