UNLV forward Mike Moser (43) covers his face during the second half as the Runnin' Rebels exit the NCAA Tournament after Thursday's loss to California. (Ben Margot/Associated Press)
San Jose, Calif. — Four straight trips to the NCAA tournament, four straight opening-game losses.
While UNLV seems headed in the right direction, it's not all the way back just yet.
Bryce Dejean-Jones scored 15 points and freshman NBA prospect Anthony Bennett shook off a poor start to finish with 15 points and 10 rebounds as the fifth-seeded Runnin' Rebels exited early again, losing 64-61 to No. 12 seed California on Thursday night.
"We're bitterly disappointed," second-year coach Dave Rice said.
The Golden Bears (21-11) held the Rebels (25-10) without a basket for more than 11 minutes in the second half. Cal confused UNLV with 40 minutes of zone defense, something coach Mike Montgomery couldn't recall doing since he was at Montana from 1977-86.
The dominant defensive stretch turned a tie game into a nine-point lead. Cal withstood a late UNLV push for its first tournament win since 2010.
The Rebels rallied to within a point in the final seconds before missed free throws and a costly inbounds pass sealed the loss.
"I feel terrible," said Bennett, who was 4 for 11 from the floor. "I wanted to go far into this tournament."
The Bears didn't have to go far to play, and now they're moving on.
Buoyed by the crowd support of a strong contingent so close to the Berkeley campus, Allen Crabbe had 19 points and nine rebounds and reserve Robert Thurman scored all 12 of his points on dunks. Even though UNLV was the higher seed and beat the Bears 76-75 in Berkeley on Dec. 9, the selection committee placed the Rebels only 50 miles from Cal's campus — and in the heart of the school's alumni base in technology-rich Silicon Valley.
"I don't buy the home-court theory because there are a lot of people there that didn't buy tickets to watch us. They bought tickets to watch basketball," Montgomery said. "But I will buy the theory that it was really great to be close to home because we had preparation time."
Sure seemed that way.
Marquette 59, Davidson 58
In Lexington Kentucky, Davidson tried to do everything it could to close out an upset of No. 3 seed Marquette in the NCAA tournament.
What the Wildcats failed to do was close in defensively on Vander Blue, whose driving layup with a second remaining capped the Golden Eagles' comeback victory in a game that Davidson had in its grasp.
The 14th-seeded Wildcats squandered a nine-point lead with less than seven minutes to play, snapping their 17-game winning streak and ending their hopes of making another deep run in March. But the way they were eliminated was what bothered players the most.
"You can tell by our faces we're not too happy about it," forward Jake Cohen said. "It's just devastating."
Leading 49-40 with 6-1/2-minutes remaining, the Wildcats (26-8) answered Marquette's attempts to rally with two free throws each by Cohen and Nik Cochran and one by J.P. Kuhlman. De'Mon Brooks' layup with 41 seconds left made it 56-51 and forced Marquette to shoot 3-pointers if it wanted to get back in the game.
That's not the Golden Eagles' strong suit, but Blue and Jamil Wilson each made one down the stretch to close to 58-57. Then came Brooks' errant inbounds pass that sailed long and set up Blue's game-winning drive past Cohen.
"I got switched onto him and he got by me," said Cohen, who had 20 points. "Hindsight's 20-20. It's really easy to look back now and draw up something different. He made a big play and made a big shot."
Brooks and Cochran both scored 11 for Davidson, making its second consecutive tournament appearance. The Wildcats became tournament darlings in 2008 when Stephen Curry led them to the regional finals as a No. 10 seed.
The comeback spoiled Davidson's upset bid and halted the nation's longest winning streak. The Wildcats entered the game shooting nearly 47 percent from the field, 37 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the free throw line.
Their numbers weren't as good on Thursday, but the Wildcats thought they had enough.
"We emptied our tank today," Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. "Credit Marquette, they made three plays down the stretch."
Early on, though, the Golden Eagles (24-8) couldn't hit from anywhere.
As Marquette was missing 10 of its first 11 attempts, Davidson came out hot, especially from the perimeter. Chris Czerapowicz, Kuhlman and Cohen all made 3-pointers in the Wildcats' 12-2 start.
Butler 68, Bucknell 56
In Lexington, Rotnei Clarke scored 11 of his 17 points in the last 8:44, Andrew Smith had a double-double with a career-high 16 rebounds and 14 points and Butler withstood a late rally from upset-minded Bucknell. Roosevelt Jones added 14 points for the sixth-seeded Bulldogs, who watched an 11-point lead turn into a 6-point deficit before regaining control of the game for good.
Butler has now won 11 of its last 13 games in the NCAA tournament, the only two losses coming in the 2010 and 2011 title games.
"The similarity is they're Butler," coach Brad Stevens said. "They have some mettle. They have some intestinal fortitude built up over time. The difference is just the people. We have to play a little bit differently on both sides of floor because of it.
"But it truly is a Butler team, which I feel good about."
Joe Willman had a career-high 20 points for Bucknell. But the 11th-seeded Bison couldn't overcome an off day from two-time Patriot League Player of the year Mike Muscala, who had nine points, only the second time this season he's failed to reach double figures. Going almost five minutes without scoring late in the second half didn't help, either.
Neither did Butler's considerable edge at the foul line. The Bulldogs made 25 of 28 free throws — 18 of 20 in the final 4:43 alone — while Bucknell went to the line just eight times.
"I just think they've played in so many big games, they're not the type of team that's going to get rattled," Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said.
Syracuse 81, Montana 34
In San Jose, California, after being sent cross-country to open the NCAA tournament, Syracuse is in no hurry to go back home.
Brandon Triche scored 20 points, C.J. Fair added 13 and the fourth-seeded Orange shut down No. 13 seed Montana with their zone defense in a 81-34 victory in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Michael Carter-Williams chipped in four points, eight rebounds and nine assists as the Orange (27-9) raced out to an early lead that grew as high as 50 points and coasted past the Grizzlies (25-7) to their most lopsided tournament win since beating Brown 101-52 in the first round in 1986.
Syracuse advanced to play 12th-seeded and local favorite California (21-11) on Saturday for a spot in the East regional in Washington, D.C. next week. The Golden Bears beat UNLV 64-61.
The Orange were the lone team from the Eastern time zone to play in San Jose this week, joining five teams from the Western half of the country and Oklahoma State and St. Louis from the Midwest. Syracuse traveled a day earlier than usual to prepare for the game and looked sharp from the start.
The Orange led by 23 points at halftime and then turned it into a laugher with a 17-2 run to open the second half. Trevor Cooney's 3-pointer midway through the second half made it 62-20.
The Orange were reeling a bit at the end of the regular season, losing four of their final five games capped by a blowout loss at rival Georgetown. Syracuse recovered to win three games to make the final of the Big East tournament and have now started the NCAAs off with a win for the fifth straight year.
For the second straight year, the Grizzlies won the Big Sky tournament to earn an NCAA tournament bid only to fall flat in their opener. They fell 73-49 to Wisconsin a year ago, shooting 38 percent for the game, including a 3-for-14 performance from star guard Will Cherry.
Cherry was hoping for a better performance this year, especially with this game being played less than an hour from his hometown of Oakland. But he scored just two points on 1 for 12 shooting.
The Grizzlies, playing without injured leading scorer Mathias Ward, shot just 20 percent (11 for 54), missed 27 of 31 3-pointers and had more turnovers (17) than made baskets.
With much of the Bay Area crowd still basking in the earlier win by California, Syracuse got off to a fast start to put to rest any questions about whether a third straight double-digit seed team would win in San Jose following wins by the Bears and Oregon earlier in the day.
Fair handled the early scoring load, scoring nine points in the opening 6 minutes to give Syracuse an 18-4 lead. The Orange made seven of their first nine shots as their superior athleticism and size created easy chances almost every time down the floor.
That size gave Montana problems on the other end against Syracuse's 2-3 zone. The Grizzlies struggled to penetrate the defense and got few easy looks, missing eight straight shots in a span of more than 6 minutes early in the game to fall into a hole that proved too big to overcome.
Christmas followed Fair's 3-pointer with an alley-oop dunk off a nice feed from Carter-Williams and James Southerland's 3-pointer from the wing made it 30-11 with less than 6 minutes to go in the half.
Fair himself had matched Montana's scoring total at that point and the deficit only got bigger at the half when Triche hit a floater and then scored on a breakaway dunk off a block by Baye Moussa Keita to make it 38-15 at the break.