GAME NOTES: In a rematch of the regular-season finale, the fifth-seeded Colorado Buffaloes will challenge the fourth-seeded California Golden Bears in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
These teams met last Saturday, with California escaping with a 66-65 win in overtime at home. The Golden Bears took a 12-11 lead in the all-time series with the victory. The winner of this matchup will face either Utah or top- seeded Arizona next.
California was one of five teams in the Pac-12 to finish 10-8 in conference play, with Oregon, Arizona State, Colorado and Stanford the others. The Golden Bears still managed to earn the fourth seed and a bye for the first round thanks to tie-breaking advantages over most of those squads, except for Arizona State, which grabbed the third seed. Last year, they were the second seed in the event, but fell in overtime in the quarterfinals to Utah (79-69).
Colorado lost three of its final four games of the regular season and nearly let that dip in momentum continue in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. However, the Buffaloes survived with a 59-56 win over USC to advance and improve to 22-10 on the season.
The Buffaloes nearly let an eight-point lead slip away over the final three minutes against USC, but they managed to hold on for the win when the Trojans' Byron Wesley missed a last-second 3-point attempt. Askia Booker scored a game-high 21 points to pace the winning side.
The task of carrying the load since leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie (14.7 ppg) went down with an injury has fallen to Josh Scott (14.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and Booker (13.9 ppg), who have assumed expanded roles. Scott is a strong player on the inside. He had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the season finale against California. Booker is a an erratic shooter, netting just 39.3 percent from the floor, but he is the only real outside threat on the roster. Xavier Johnson (12.1 ppg, 5 9 rpg) has also picked up the pace in terms of scoring recently, netting 24 points in the season finale, while scoring in double figures in 13 of the last 14 contests overall.
The win in the regular-season finale for the Golden Bears was an important one. Leading the way was Justin Cobbs, who tallied 21 points, sinking all eight of his attempts at the free-throw line.
Last season, Cobbs served as the second option behind Allen Crabbe, who went on to win the Pac-12 Player of the Year award. Cobbs (15.6 ppg, 5.8 apg) has come into his own as the top option this season, leading the team in scoring and ranking second in the conference in assists. He gets plenty of help from his supporting cast, with Tyrone Wallace (11.3 ppg) being his partner in the backcourt, and David Kravish (11.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Richard Solomon (11.2 ppg, 10 rpg) carving out space on the interior. Depth is a bit of an issue, however, with Jordan Mathews (8.7 ppg) the next best scorer, but doing so primarily as a reserve.
This should be another epic bout, with each team desperate to not only move on in this event, but also bolster their resume' for NCAA Tournament consideration. Cal will benefit from an extra day of rest in a game likely to come down to the final minutes.
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