One of the worst — and strangest — seasons in Cal basketball history is over.
The Bears went nearly 6 minutes without scoring in the middle of the second half and never fully recovered on the way to a 56-51 loss to Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday in Las Vegas.
The Bears finished 8-23, posting just one fewer defeat than a year ago. They lost a program-worst 16 games in a row (15 to start the Pac-12 schedule) before an upset of conference champion Washington triggered a three-game win streak to end the conference season.
But that was as far as their late-season magic would take them.
Now the ball is in first-year athletic director Jim Knowlton’s hands: Does he make a coaching change or retain Wyking Jones, who was 16-47 in two seasons.
Freshman Matt Bradley scored 17 points for the 12th-seeded Bears but he missed on an open 3-pointer that could have tied the score with 6 seconds left.
“I thought it was going to go in. I’m pretty frustrated that it didn’t,” said Bradley, one of the Pac-12’s most efficient 3-point shooters at 47 percent.
Colorado’s Tyler Bey then converted two free throws with 2.4 seconds left to ice he win.
The Bears trailed just 37-35 after a layup by Justice Sueing with 13:20 remaining. Colorado answered with an 8-0 burst, including 3-pointers from D’Shawn Schwartz and Shane Gatling, for a 45-35 lead.
Sueing finally ended the drought of 5:53 in duration when he nailed a 3-pointer. After Colorado rebuilt the margin to 10 points, the Bears went 7-0 to get within 50-47 on a pair of free throws by Bradley with 3:29 left.
Bradley’s 3-pointer pulled the Bears within 54-51 with 1:20 left.
McKinley Wright IV, who led Colorado (20-11) with 18 points, then appeared to drain a 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired with 13.8 seconds left.
An official review wiped away the basket — McKinley released it after the shot click reached zero — and Cal had one more chance. Bradley got a good look but came up short.
The Bears shot 34 percent for the game. They made eight 3-pointers, but just eight from inside the arc. They were demolished 40-19 on the boards, their bench was held scoreless and Cal and could not win despite a season-high 23 turnovers by the Buffaloes.
The rebounding numbers jumped off the stat sheet at Jones.
“It’s hard to win a basketball game when you get outrebounded by that margin,” he said.
Sueing wound up with 10 points, Paris Austin scored nine and Connor Vanover had eight points and three blocked shots.
Jones conceded the team was stagnant offensively at times but added, “Defensively, I thought we did a really good job and I was definitely happy with my team’s effort today.”
Colorado led 28-22 at halftime after an encouraging start by the Bears.
Cal scored the game’s first six points — all on layups off Colorado turnovers — and led 9-3 after 4-plus minutes.
The Buffaloes continued to accommodate Cal with 12 first-half turnovers, but the Bears scored just two more points in the half off those giveaways.
Otherwise, Cal’s offense struggled. The Bears shot 32 percent (8 for 25) in the half, turned the ball over seven times and got just 14 points out of their half-court offense in the half. At one point, they scored just five points in a span of 18 possessions and the Buffs countered with 20 points to take charge.
Colorado had the lead despite all-Pac-12 forward Bey scoring just one first-half point and committing five turnovers. He finished with eight points, 11 rebounds and seven turnovers.