California used swarming defense to upset fifth-seeded UNLV (AP Photo).

Though UNLV entered Thursday’s contest as the higher seed at No. 5, the Runnin’ Rebels weren’t exactly a heavy favorite against California. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, UNLV had lost the past three first-round NCAA games in which it was the higher seed.

Make that four after Thursday’s 64-61 loss to the Golden Bears, who held somewhat of a homecourt advantage playing in San Jose, Calif.

The Runnin’ Rebels did all they could in the game’s final minute to reverse this trend, shrinking a seven-point deficit to one in the final 42 seconds. Meantime, Cal did all it could to give away the game, missing six free throws in that same span.

Ultimately, Allen Crabbe, who scored a game-high 19 points, sank two decisive foul shots with one second remaining for Cal.

Cal used a strong zone defense to hold UNLV to just 31.7 percent shooting from the field, including a 6-for-21 showing from behind the arc. How bad did things get for the Running Rebels?

With the win, the Golden Bears avenge an early-season loss to UNLV and advance to Saturday’s round of 32, where they will face the winner of Syracuse-Montana.

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