BERKELEY -- Cal got what it needed most out of NCAA Selection Sunday: Motivation.
Tabbed as a No. 12 seed, the Golden Bears get a rematch they relish against No. 5 UNLV in a Thursday "home" game at HP Pavilion in San Jose. It will be Cal's first NCAA tournament game in the Pacific time zone in over 50 years.
"When everybody is fired up and ready to go is when we're at our best," said Cal junior Allen Crabbe, the Pac-12 Player of the Year.
And he's right. A year ago, the Bears were quickly shipped halfway across the country to face a South Florida team they knew little about, in a "First Four" game in Dayton, Ohio. They fell behind 36-13 at halftime and were on their way home before the main portion of the tournament began.
"We weren't even mentally there," Crabbe admitted.
They are jazzed about this game, a chance to square things against a UNLV team that beat them 76-75 in Berkeley on Dec. 9 when Quintrell Thomas turned a teammate's air ball into the winning put-back shot with 1.2 seconds left.
"We want revenge," senior Robert Thurman said. "The way they slipped out of our fingers last time was a fluke."
The winner of the matchup between the Bears (20-11) and Runnin' Rebels (25-9) will play Saturday against either No. 4 Syracuse (26-9) or No. 13 Montana (25-6), the latter featuring star guard Will Cherry of Oakland.
Thursday's Cal-UNLV game will start at 4:27 p.m., with Syracuse-Montana to follow.
Cal is coming off back-to-back losses to Stanford and Utah after a seven-game win streak that included victories over Arizona, UCLA, Oregon and Colorado. UNLV lost to New Mexico on its home floor in Vegas in the championship game of the Mountain West Conference tournament.
The circumstances could not be much better for Cal, which last played an NCAA tournament game in the Pacific time zone when it lost to Ohio State in the 1960 national championship game at the Cow Palace.
"I thought we were going to play in Philadelphia or Austin, Texas," Crabbe said. "It's like a home game for us."
"We're delighted," said Cal coach Mike Montgomery, who often has railed at the NCAA for crisscrossing teams across the map when there were easier geographical matchup options.
Thurman said the players hope HP Pavilion has a blue and gold look to it Thursday.
"If there's an actual Cal community that has a belief in us winning and wants to support us, then they'll be there," he said. "San Jose's a huge hub of Cal alums with all the technology."
Convenience aside, the Bears will benefit from playing an opponent that has their attention. UNLV is big and fast and talented, led by 6-foot-8 freshman forward Anthony Bennett, projected as a lottery pick in the NBA draft.
"They shoot the ball really well, their guards are good, and Bennett is a monster," Cal forward David Kravish said. Bennett had 13 games of 20 points or more this season, including 25 points and 13 rebounds against Cal.
Bennett is far from a one-man band. Junior forward Mike Moser, who averaged 14 points and 10.5 rebounds a year ago, dislocated his elbow 5 minutes into the Cal game. Khem Birch, a 6-9 transfer from Pitt who averages 7.2 points, was not eligible when the teams first met.
Montgomery said the teams will share familiarity with the other but agreed that his club plays better when the stakes are higher.
"I think our attitude will be good going into the game. I think we'll be fired up," he said. "Whether that's enough, we'll see."
The mindset will be night and day from last season at Dayton, junior guard Justin Cobbs said.
"A year ago we were excited to get in," he said, "but we didn't play like it."
n This is Cal's fourth trip to the NCAA tournament in five seasons under Montgomery. The Bears have a 1-3 record in the three previous trips.