Cal Basketball: NCAA Tournament Has a Rich Bay Area History

Pete Newell, chewing on a towel, coached his final game for Cal at the 1960 Final Four at the Cow Palace.Photo courtesy of Cal Athletics

The first NCAA held games here & Cal legend Pete Newell coached his final game in the 1960 Final Four at the Cow Palace

The closest Cal — or its fans — will get to the NCAA tournament this year is by trekking to the SAP Center in San Jose for Friday’s four opening-round games.

Oregon will represent the Pac-12 in the Bay Area on Friday, just as the Ducks did 80 years ago.

Back then, they played in the Pacific Coast Conference. And they were known as the Tall Firs.

Oregon won the first NCAA basketball championship in 1939, and took the first steps toward that title on our turf.

This is the 15th time the NCAA has made a stop in the Bay Area. Here’s a look at the previous 14, starting with the very first one:

-- 1939 at San Francisco: The first NCAA tournament included just eight teams at two first-round sites. One of them was Treasure Island, where the Golden Gate International Exposition was being held. Oregon beat Texas 56-41 exactly 80 years ago on Wednesday, then topped Oklahoma 55-37 to advance to the championship game at Evanston, IL, where the Tall Firs handled Ohio State 46-33 for the national title.

-- 1953 at Stanford: Santa Clara’s Dick Soares, who averaged 8.6 points for the season, scored 21 as the Broncos beat Hardin-Simmons 81-56 at Burnham Pavilion to advance to the West Regional semifinals at Corvallis, OR.

-- 1955 at San Francisco: USF began its historic journey toward back-to-back NCAA titles with an 89-66 rout of West Texas State at the Cow Palace. Legendary Bill Russell overcame a cold to score 29 points in 29 minutes and Jerry Mullen added 20 points.

-- 1958 at Berkeley: The NCAA’s made its first trip to the East Bay and its only stop ever at Cal for a pair of first-round games. The highlight was All-American Elgin Baylor scoring 26 points to power Seattle past Wyoming, 88-51.

-- 1958 at San Francisco: No, Cal did not get to play on its own campus in the tournament that season. The Bears knocked off Idaho State 54-43 in the West semifinals at the Cow Palace while Elgin Baylor scored 35 points in a 69-67 win over San Francisco. Baylor then had 26 points and 18 rebounds as Seattle advanced to its only Final Four with a 66-62 win over the Bears.

-- 1959 at San Francisco: Future Warriors star Tom Meschery powered Saint Mary’s past Idaho State in a West semifinal game at the Cow Palace while Cal advanced by crushing Utah. In the regional final, Denny Fitzpatrick scored 21 points and the Bears held Meschery to five points to claim a 66-46 win and a trip to the Final Four at Louisville, KY, where 60 years ago they won their only national title.

Darrall Imhoff goes above the crowd for the basketball.Photo courtesy of Cal Athletics

-- 1960 at San Francisco: In the only Final Four held in the Bay Area, Cal beat Cincinnati 77-69 in the national semifinals at the Cow Palace as Darrall Imhoff had 25 points and 11 rebounds and Bill McClintock posted 18 points and 10 rebounds. Pete Newell coached his final game two days later but the defending national champion Bears were crushed 75-55 by an Ohio State team led by Jerry Lucas.

-- 1990 at Oakland: The NCAA tournament made its long-awaited return to the Bay Area, which was treated to the season’s hottest story. Loyola Marymount, whose star player Hank Gathers collapsed and died on the court in the West Coast Conference tournament, got past Alabama in the West Regional semifinals. Top-ranked UNLV also won, setting up a showdown between the nation’s two highest-scoring teams. It was no match. The Runnin’ Rebels won 131-101 as four players scored at least 20 points, led by Stacey Augmon with 33 and Anderson Hunt with 30. Gathers’ childhood buddy, Bo Kimble, scored 42 points for Loyola.

-- 1995 at Oakland: UCLA used the Bay Area as the jumping off point to its first NCAA title since John Wooden retired 20 years earlier. In the the West Regional final, Tony Bailey scored 26 points and Tyus Edney had 22 as the Bruins overcame 36 points from Ray Allen to beat UConn 102-96.

-- 1997 at San Jose: Mike Montgomery will tell you it was point guard Brevin Knight who took his Stanford program to another level, and Knight got to play in front of basically a home crowd in his final college game. He had 27 points and nine assists, but the Cardinal lost 82-77 to Utah in the West Regional semifinal.

-- 2006 at Oakland: UCLA left Gonzaga star Adam Morrison in tears at mid-court after their regional semifinal game and the Bruins’ defense had much the same effect on Memphis in a 50-45 victory that sent them to the Final Four.

-- 2007 at San Jose: For the third time in 12 seasons, UCLA advanced to the Final Four out of a Bay Area regional. And for the second straight year, the Bruins’ title hopes were denied on the final weekend by eventual champion Florida.

-- 2010 at San Jose: Sophomore Gordon Hayward shot just 8 for 21 in Butler’s first two games of the NCAA tournament, but he went on to lead the Bulldogs to a national championship game appearance against Duke.

-- 2013 at San Jose: Montgomery, by then coaching at Cal, went against his usual approach by using a zone defense to bottle up soon-to-be No. 1 draft bust Anthony Bennett and Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe scored 19 points as the Bears won their NCAA opener 64-61.

-- 2017 at San Jose: Top-seeded Gonzaga, America’s college hoops darlings, at last made it to the Final Four, improving to 36-1 with an 83-59 rout of Xavier in the West Regional final.