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Grin 'n Bear it
Cal tops Colorado State, earns first trip to NIT semis
Posted: Friday March 19, 1999 01:36 AM
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- The California Bears, who needed incredible comebacks to reach the NIT quarterfinals, got off to a quick start for once -- and then struggled to handle their early success.
The Bears, who used double-digit rallies to win their opening two NIT games, had a 26-2 run in the first half and survived a second-half scare from Colorado State to defeat the Rams 71-62 Thursday night and reach the NIT semifinals.
California blew a 21-point second-half lead over the Rams, who briefly took the lead twice while holding the Bears to one basket in a 14 1/2-minute span. But the Bears scored the final 10 points of the game to win.
"Everybody kept complaining about our starts. I was really pleased with the way we kept our intensity at the start," California coach Ben Braun said. "We expended a lot of energy to get that lead and you could see a pretty tired team, and it kind of caught up with us in the second half."
California will face Oregon in the semifinals next Tuesday in New York, the Bears' first trip to Madison Square Garden since losing to Ohio State in the NCAA semifinals in 1946. Oregon defeated California in the regular-season finale to ruin the Bears' hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament.
Michael Gill tied his career high with 18 points for California (20-11), which lost twice this season to Pac-10 peer Oregon. The other NIT semifinal will be Xavier against Clemson.
"We need to jump on Oregon because they took us out of the NCAA race. I know I'm going to take that game personally," Gill said. "I kind of felt we'd meet up again."
Geno Carlisle added 15 points for the Bears, who reached the NIT semifinals for the first time. California was 15-2 this season at the Oakland Arena, its temporary home while its campus arena is renovated and enlarged.
Carlisle said blowing a lead was not a new experience for the Bears.
"This is something we've been doing throughout the season, but this was the biggest scare. We just had NIT jitters," he said with a laugh.
Milt Palacio had 19 points for the Rams (19-11), whose successful season earned first-year coach Ritchie McKay a five-year contract extension earlier this week.
"There were no Knute Rockne speeches at halftime. We just said, 'Is this the way we want to go out?'" McKay said. "Our team is pretty good when we don't have turnovers. We had 14 in the first half and only three in the second half."
California overcame a 13-point deficit in the final 15:30 to beat Fresno State 79-71 in the NIT's first round, and fell behind by 17 points in the first half Tuesday at DePaul before rallying for a 58-57 win over the Blue Demons.
The Rams took a 9-4 lead in the opening two minutes against California, but the Bears then scored 14 straight points -- holding Colorado State scoreless for 7:23.
Colorado State finally scored to make it 18-11, but the Bears then went on another 12-point run to take a 19-point lead. During its 26-2 run, California had seven steals and blocked three shots.
The Bears led 37-20 at halftime, with Gill topping all scorers with 12 points in the half. Colorado State shot just 26 percent in the first half, compared to 53 percent for California.
Carlisle's three-point play with 16:06 remaining in the second half gave California a 47-29 lead and led to smiles of satisfaction among the Bears. But California did not score a basket for the next 6:46, and the Rams went on a 19-3 run -- including back-to-back 3-pointers by Palacio and Erik Smith -- to pull within two points.
The Rams got to 50-48 with 7:34 left when California's Sean Lampley shoved Colorado State's David Fisher in the back during a stoppage of play. That resulted in a technical foul, which the Rams turned into three points.
The Bears held on to a slim lead by making free throws, but the Rams finally took the lead on a dunk by Shawn Harris with 5:51 left. California regained the lead at the foul line, but Colorado State again took the lead at 62-61 with 2:01 left on a baseline jumper by Fisher.
Boyd responded with a three-point play with 1:40 left, though, to put California up 64-62 and Carlisle's short jumper with 55 seconds left made it 66-62. Carlisle added two free throws with 36 seconds left to increase the margin to six points.
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