BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Cal eventually found the right defensive formula Tuesday night and it paved the way to a thrilling comeback victory.
Holding UNLV to two points over the final six minutes of regulation, the Bears rallied to a 79-75 overtime win.
Matt Bradley scored 23 points, Kareem South added 14 and Joel Brown had 12 as Cal (2-0) stayed unbeaten under first-year coach Mark Fox.
The Bears finished regulation on an 11-2 run to erase a nine-point deficit. After watching the Runnin' Rebels (1-2) get to the hoop consistently and shoot 59 percent in the first half, Cal held UNLV to 40 percent from the floor (14 for 35) in the second half and overtime.
"I gotta give credit to UNLV's guard play. They did a really good job (in the first half)," South said. "Defensively, I think we just picked it up. When it was the moment of truth, we locked it in and got stops."
UNLV opened a 65-56 lead with less than six minutes remaining, but Cal battled back and tied it at 67 on two Bradley free throws with 33.6 seconds left.
Cal forced a shot-clock violation with 3.6 seconds left to set up a chance to win in regulation, but Paris Austin's driving floater bounced off the front rim at the buzzer.
But the Bears quickly took control in overtime, as South's 3-pointer put momentum in their favor. The lead was just 77-75 in the closing seconds, but UNLV's Cheikh Mitrou-Long drove the lane and lost control of the ball.
Two free throws from South iced it for Cal.
Donnie Tillman led the Runnin' Rebels with 17 points and Mitrou-Long had 16.
"The games aren't won and lost in those last possessions," UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger said. "I think we just need to be intentional in maintaining our focus. We've got to watch some film, look at what was the right play and get better and make that right play next time."
UNLV: Tillman emerged as a secondary threat to complement leading scorer Amauri Hardy, but the Runnin' Rebels need to find a way to finish out after building a sizable lead.
Cal: The Bears found a way to win even when Bradley, their top scorer, was silenced offensively for much of the second half.
Andre Kelly, South, Brown and Bradley all chipped in with big shots during the closing burst that pulled Cal into a tie and forced overtime.
Brown contributed big minutes during Cal's comeback and nailed a 3-pointer late in the second half that fired up the home crowd. The big effort came on Brown's 19th birthday.
Kelly tried driving to the hoop midway through the second half, only to have his shot swatted away emphatically by UNLV's Mbacke Diong. At that point it seemed everything was rolling the way of the Runnin' Rebels.
UNLV continues a two-game Pac-12 road swing Friday at UCLA, which is 2-0 to start its season.
Cal opens play in the 2K Empire Classic on Friday by hosting California Baptist, starting a stretch of four games in eight days for the Bears.
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