Thanks to a big assist from UCLA, Cal can clinch a tie for its second Pac-12 Conference title in three seasons Sunday with a win over rival Stanford at Maples Pavilion.
The Bruins upended conference leader Washington 75-69 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on Saturday, giving Cal a chance to steal a share of the crown.
"We have a chance to finish first. To me, that's always been a big deal," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said this past week, dismissing talk about the NCAA tournament.
Cal (23-7, 13-4 Pac-12) must beat the Cardinal (19-10, 9-8) in both teams' regular-season finale in order to pull even with Washington (21-9, 14-4).
A victory also would give the Bears the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament, which begins Wednesday at Staples Center in Los Angeles and will determine the league's automatic NCAA tournament bid. Cal owns the tiebreaker over UW because of its 69-66 victory over the Huskies on Jan. 19 in Seattle.
Even if they lose Sunday, the Bears are assured of no worse than the No. 2 conference tournament seeding. They could finish in a tie for second with Oregon and Arizona, but the Bears would win the three-way tiebreaker and Oregon would prevail in a head-to-head tiebreaker vs. Arizona to secure the No. 3 Pac-12 seed.
The top four seeds get first-round byes into Thursday's quarterfinal round.
Stanford, which is locked into the No. 7 seed for the Pac-12 tournament, will open the event Wednesday against No. 10
Cal was scheduled to be on the practice floor Saturday during the UCLA-Washington game, which was televised beginning at 11 a.m. Players joked earlier in the week that Montgomery probably did that on purpose to keep their focus on their own business.
"It's all about Stanford. It has to be that way. They are our rival," Cal senior Harper Kamp said. "It's a huge game for us, it always is, no matter what the situation, no matter what our record. It's going to be fun, and we want to beat them."
The Bears will play for the first time since losing 70-57 at Colorado last Sunday, an outcome that dropped them a game behind the Huskies in the loss column. Cal has not lost two games in a row all season.
Meanwhile, Stanford blasted Colorado 74-50 a week ago Thursday, then lost two days later at 11th-place Utah.
"For us, we've been in that position a few times this year," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said of his young squad's uneven play. "It's part of the maturation process for our kids. They have to grow into it.
"We've shown our potential this year, what we're capable of, then we've had times we haven't played as well."
Montgomery planned to spend no time this week pondering which Stanford team will show up. "I expect their best," he said.
He'd like to get that same level from his own club after a subpar defensive performance at Colorado.
"There seemed to be a lack of energy there," Montgomery said. "I didn't think that was who we (are) ... defensively, we weren't very good."
Kamp said Cal won't be distracted by worrying about its NCAA tournament status. "I hope people see we've done our job and we deserve to be there," he said.
The Bears need one victory to tie the school record for conference wins (14) in a season and match their highest overall win total (24) since 1959.
"We've got enough to play for," Montgomery said.
Courtesy of UCLA, perhaps more than they even expected.