BERKELEY -- David Kravish used to fill out brackets for the NCAA Tournamenit with his friends in high school, back in Lee's Summit, Mo. Even further back, the 6-foot-9 California true freshman would stand in his driveway, counting down.
"You're playing in the driveway, when you're 12, and you're announcing the game while you're playing the game, it's the NCAA championship, your team's down two with five seconds left," Kravish says. "You dribble up the court, you pull up and you shoot the game-winning three, and you always make it. If you miss it, you get the rebound and shoot it again."
Now, Kravish and the Bears (24-9) are there. They're in the Dance. Granted, they're in a First Four game versus South Florida, but they're in. Cal will face off against the Bulls at 6 PM on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, for the right to play No. 5-seed Temple (24-7) on Friday in Nashville, Tenn.
"It's basketball. No matter how old you are or how long you've been playing, it's basketball. It's just a game," says Kravish. "You've just got to go out and have fun. Sometimes you'll put too much pressure on yourself and press a little bit, but at the end of the day, it's a game. You've got to have fun. If you're not having fun, then you're not doing it right."
The only at-large team from the Pac-12, if the Bears win, they'll get a No. 12-seed, with Pac-12 Tournament winner Colorado earning a No. 11-seed on the other side of the bracket. The Buffaloes (23-11) will square off with No. 3-seed Baylor.
"I think, the Pac-12, as a conference, got a bad rap at the beginning of the year, and it's definitely a tough conference," says Kravish. "It's something to prove that, but it's a tough conference."
Cal had to wait through the entire selection show before learning its fate, with regular-season champ Washington still on the board as a potential at-large team.
"Those last couple games, we just didn't come out ready to play, and it was evident," says Kravish. "We played Colorado in the semifinal and got down 12-2, and when you're playing against a team that gets after it and plays as hard as Colorado does, you can't play that way. We've got to play the kind of basketball we played before. We've got to find that motivation."
Last year, Virginia Commonwealth played in the same play-in game slot Cal now occupies, and went on to defeat USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas to make it to the Final Four.
" I think that story's encouraging, just the kind of team they were, says senior power forward Harper Kamp. "Maybe it'll give us the chance to get there. It'll give us a chance to get some of our nerves out, and if we can get past that first game, then maybe we can take advantage."
South Florida has not a single player averaging double digits in points, and are led offensively by Augustus Gilchrist -- who averages 9.6 ppg -- and Victor Rudd -- a high school acquaintance of Bears point guard Justin Cobbs -- averaging 8.7 ppg.
Over the past five games, Kravish has come on strong, averaging 9.8 points, 5.8 boards and 2.0 blocks per game -- all better than his season averages, and easily his best stretch since taking over as the starting center after Richard Solomon was hurt, then suspended and finally deemed academically ineligible.
"Rich is a great player," Kravish says. "Everybody knows what kind of talent and ability he has. Going up against him in practice, every single day, it really helps. He's explosive, he's strong, so when you get to go up against him, it helps against teams that have a bunch of guys like that. He's helping me come along. He blocks my shot, he's, 'OK, you need to think about it this way,' instead of being tentative or doing whatever I did."
Kravish has also learned at the feet of Kamp and senior guard Jorge Gutierrez, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and overall conference Player of the Year, and that learning hasn't been restricted to skills or approaches. His education has also been about mentality and attitude. Words like loyalty, trust and teamwork have been both his and the team's weekly vocabulary homework, as it were, and there would be no shinier apple for his teachers than to advance to a larger dance floor.
"We've got a great group of guys, and everybody is just a big family, so we're in this together. We're going to play until the end," says Kravish. "It's one and done time now. If you win, you keep playing. If you lose, you're done. This is how it's been for me all season. This is so much for Jorge and Harper. I mean, it's for the rest of the team, but especially for Jorge and Harper. For those two guys, it's their last go-around. I really want to go there and bust it so they can keep playing. It's the last time. Any success that they can get, because of anything I can do, is one of my goals."