Fifty years ago to the day after Cal's basketball team last won a conference title, the Bears will try to lock up at least a piece of the Pac-10 championship when they face second-place Arizona State today at Haas Pavilion.

Should Cal beat the Sun Devils, it will stir some happy memories from this same date a half-century ago:

  • The Winter Olympics were in full swing, as they are now, and the United States scored a 3-2 hockey upset of the defending gold medalist Soviet Union at Squaw Valley.

  • Cal football coach Marv Levy announced the hiring of a 28-year-old assistant with a resume consisting of three seasons as head coach at Washington High in Fremont and an intriguing masters thesis at San Jose State called, "Defensing the Spread-T Offense."

    The new guy: Bill Walsh.

  • Cal's basketball team beat Oregon State 62-47 to clinch the Athletic Association on Western Universities — or "Big 5" — conference championship. That story hardly was extraordinary because it was Cal's fourth straight AAWU title.

    This season's Bears (19-9, 11-5), who are coming off a rousing 95-71 win over Arizona on Thursday, can secure at least a tie for the title by beating the Sun Devils (20-8, 10-5). Cal then closes out the regular season next Saturday at Stanford, while ASU is at home next week against USC and UCLA.

    "I think we'll be fired up. It's a

    big game ... we're playing for something,'' senior Theo Robertson said. "Everything we've worked for is on the line."

    ASU, which arrives having won 10 of its past 13 games, is pursuing its first conference title in 35 seasons.

    Whether this is the Bears' biggest regular-season game in 50 years depends on the outcome. Twice before — in 1994 and 2006 — Cal had a chance to secure a conference co-title or piece of first place on the final weekend of the season. Both times, the Bears lost.

    Coach Mike Montgomery said after Friday's practice he didn't feel the need to state the obvious to his team.

    "They know what's going," he said. "It's important we play well, it's a home game, if we win we're going to be conference champion. End of story.

    "If we keep piling on, it becomes this immense load. No, let's play."

    Montgomery is trying to downplay the Senior Day element, although there will be a 10-minute ceremony before tipoff honoring the five seniors and their families.

    He said most of the players have their families at games regularly, so he's hoping emotions aren't a distraction. In any case, the Bears will play a minimum of three more games after today.

    "It's just the last game here," Montgomery said.

    A loss today wouldn't end Cal's hopes of winning the title. There are multiple scenarios.

    "The reality of it," Montgomery said, "is it's in our hands."

    Notes: Montgomery said he will go with his usual lineup rather than start reserve guard Nikola Knezevic simply because he's a senior ... Sophomore reserve center Max Zhang said he likely will miss two more weeks after suffering a collapsed lung Monday when he collided with walk-on Robert Thurman in a one-on-one drill ... As of 4 p.m. Friday, Cal had just 200 tickets left for today's game. A sellout would be the first of the season at Haas Pavilion.

    TODAY: vs. Arizona State, noon. TV: CSNBA. Radio: 1550-AM