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Staff archives: California Golden Bears guard Allen Crabbe (23) at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif., on Wednesday, March 6, 2013.

BERKELEY -- So begins college basketball's season of glory and gold, when the hoop becomes a circular dollar sign. It is every cent of that and more for Allen Crabbe.

This NCAA tournament likely represents the final hours of the junior guard's career at Cal, as Crabbe is widely expected to declare his eligibility for the NBA draft.

He should be selected in the first round, though exactly where will be influenced by how Crabbe exits Cal, which opens the NCAAs on Thursday in San Jose as a No. 12 seed against No. 5 UNLV.

One and done? Crabbe likely will slide toward the back of the first round.

A solid performance from Crabbe with the Golden Bears playing at least two games could put him in the middle of the first round.

Staff archives: California Golden Bears guard Allen Crabbe (23) at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif., on Wednesday, March 6, 2013.
Staff archives: California Golden Bears guard Allen Crabbe (23) at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif., on Wednesday, March 6, 2013. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff Archives)

An extraordinary performance during which he is the central figure leading the Golden Bears into the second weekend could vault Crabbe as high as the lottery.

This is money time, and Crabbe surely realizes the need to create a new and more glorious defining moment.

"I take a lot of the shine, being in the spotlight," he said after the tournament field was announced Sunday. "It just happened to be that way. I'm not saying I was asking for it, or that I asked to be the leader. It just happened.

"I'm ready to do whatever it takes. If it takes me shooting, I'm going to do that. Now it's serious. If we lose, the season is over. If it takes me passing more, because they're helping on me, I'll do that. Whether it's scoring, assisting or rebounding, whatever it is we need."

The NCAAs are where stars go on display, and Crabbe is Cal's leader and top scorer. The 6-foot-6 Los Angeles native, who turns 21 April 4, is the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

And yet it would greatly behoove Crabbe to expand on those accomplishments. For his wallet as well as his image, he must take perceptions beyond that of being the young man who politely absorbed a shove from his coach or the talented player whose best work doesn't show in big games.

"This is where you kind of make or break," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "You can really do some things if you can advance through the tournament."

Crabbe never has won an NCAA tournament game. After being relegated to the NIT during his freshman season, the Bears last season were trounced by South Florida in an NCAA first round play-in game.

Nobody was trounced more completely than Crabbe. The Bulls buried Cal with a 36-13 first-half blitz and took a 65-54 victory. Crabbe played 37 minutes, making 3 of 14 shots and scoring 10 points.

In Cal's most recent big game, last Thursday in the Pac-12 Tournament, Crabbe missed 12 of 18 shots and the Bears, expected to compete for the tournament title, fell to lowly Utah.

Crabbe described the loss as "painful" and seeks to vindicate himself and his team.

"I look at (the NCAAs) as a big opportunity, especially for Cal," he said. "We can really make a name for ourselves, put our name back out there, if we can get deep into the tournament. I'm pretty sure everybody is doubting us. I'm pretty sure people are not expecting us to win this game."

The skepticism is related less to Cal's one-point loss to UNLV on Dec. 9 than to the Bears' erratic play. They're at times surprisingly good and at other times shockingly bad.

So, too, has been Crabbe, who realizes he and his team have the "soft" rap, as capable of beating any team as losing to it. Yet the Bears earned their way into the tournament.

Which team, and which Crabbe, will show up Thursday at HP Pavilion?

"We deserve to be in the tournament, and we really have to cherish this moment," Crabbe said. "We can't let it go to waste. We just have to go out there and play Cal basketball. I don't want this season to be over with on Thursday."

If Crabbe is on his game, the season could go beyond Thursday, maybe into a second weekend. In which case, he will have recast himself and increased his value.

If he's not on his game, Crabbe could pack up and leave Berkeley as early as Friday, fully and painfully aware that NBA scouts will be scratching their heads.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/1montepoole.

Thursday's game

Cal (20-11) vs. UNLV (25-9) at San Jose, 4:27 p.m.