LAS VEGAS -- No one in the Cal locker room wanted to say it, but senior guard Justin Cobbs' teary, red eyes told the story: The Bears likely won't be going to the NCAA tournament this season.
Colorado beat Cal 59-56 in Thursday's Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals, leaving the Bears perhaps one victory shy of earning a berth Sunday from the NCAA selection committee.
"There's a committee that knows, and I'm not on that committee," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "At this point it's out of our hands. The job needed to be done before. So now we're at the mercy, and we've made it tough on ourselves."
Five days after beating the Buffaloes in overtime at Berkeley, the Bears found themselves fighting back from a nine-point halftime deficit. They got within a point but couldn't apply the finishing touches.
Cobbs and backcourt mate Tyrone Wallace combined for Cal's final 22 points, Cobbs finishing the game with 21 points, Wallace with 13. Cobbs beat himself up over mistakes in the final 2 minutes.
"Frustrated," Cobbs said. "I didn't take care of the ball, and there were shots I should make."
The Bears (19-13) arrived at Las Vegas knowing they needed at least one more win. Without it, Cal almost certainly will be denied a third straight NCAA bid, and fifth in Montgomery's six seasons -- unprecedented in school history.
Cal was No. 54 in Thursday's RealTimeRPI rankings -- beyond what normally qualifies for an at-large entry into the NCAAs. Colorado was No. 33.
After a 5-0 start in conference, the Bears have won five of their past 14 games. Theirs seems to be the resume of an NIT team.
"I can't even get to that. I'm still on this game," said senior forward Richard Solomon, who had 16 rebounds. "It hurts."
Colorado (23-10), likely comfortably in the 68-team field, will take on top-seeded Arizona (29-3) in Friday's semifinals.
The game felt like so many others for the Bears, who have struggled to maintain a consistently high effort level. They trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half, and Montgomery said they were "very fortunate" to be down just nine at the break.
The transition game that allowed the Bears to fight back in the second half was nonexistent in the opening 20 minutes.
"We didn't play hard enough," Montgomery said. "Second half we started scrapping, getting together defensively, got out on the break. That's the way we have to play."
Asked why the Bears didn't play harder at the start, forward David Kravish said, "I couldn't tell you. We've had that kind of problem all year."
Colorado's margin was just 49-48 after a steal and emphatic breakaway dunk by Cobbs with 6:33 left.
The Bears held Colorado scoreless for more than 51/2 minutes, forcing four turnovers in a span of eight possessions.
The margin was still just two points after Cobbs converted a drive and free throw with 2:25 left. He missed jumpers on consecutive trips down the court, then converted a layup with 7.3 seconds left to make it 58-56.
Cal fouled Eli Stalzer, who made just one of two free throws, but Cobbs' desperation 3-point try at the buzzer wasn't close.
"Games like that with teams that are fairly even," Montgomery said, "you have to make plays at critical times."
The Bears didn't. Sunday they find out how costly that will be.