I hate talking about the refs, so let's get this out of the way quick: If there are more fouls called than minutes in the game, it had better have been a really physical game. Yesterday two teams played nearly 40 minutes of zone defense. It wasn't particularly physical at all. And yet there were 49 fouls called. Ugh. Let's move on.
It takes a special confluence of good play by one team and bad play by the other to create an 18 point lead in less than 10 minutes of game time, but that's how well the Bears started and how poorly Oregon played defense early. Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp were getting open looks on nearly every possession, and on the rare occasion that they were double teamed they found an open players on the perimeter - four different Bears hit a 3 during their opening run. It was wonderful, high level basketball to watch, but it was also a level of shooting that was clearly unsustainable.
So I wasn't too worried when Oregon cut the lead to 7 with 7:17 left in the first half, and a 12 point halftime lead seemed like a solid reward for a good half of offense. (Sidenote: Can you believe that the same team that scored 5 points in a half scored 47 in the first half yesterday? And that it didn't seem all that surprising?) But as Oregon started denying the ball to our posts and gradually chipped away at the lead, cutting it all the way down to one inside seven minutes to play, visions of a horrible home collapse that would ruin the good vibes from Cal's recent win streak ran through my head.
Luckily Cal's offense woke up just in time, and our veterans stepped up when we needed them - Harper got a quick layup, Jorge hit his biggest 3 of the season, and MSF made one of his patented little hooks. And after spending most of the 2nd half letting a lead slip away by missing free throws the Bears stepped up and hit their last 10 from the charity stripe to hold on, if just barely. Phew.
We didn't really need any reminders, but this game demonstrated how incredibly important Harper Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison are for this team. When both are on the court, defenses have to account for two polished post players who can create their own shot and pass the ball well. The duo can score plenty on their own, but they really open up space for everybody else. It wasn't very surprising that Oregon's run to get back into the game in the first half came with MSF on the bench with two fouls, and that their second run to get within a point came with Harper on the bench with four fouls. Luckily Cal played so well in the limited minutes in which they were both on the floor that they were able to just barely hold on for the win.
The stats will show you a pretty typical story for a Cal win - a substantial advantage from the line making up for a turnover disparity. In a bit of a twist, the Bears actually won the battle on the offensive boards. It wasn't any one player, but 6 different Bears recorded 2 or more offensive rebounds, leading to 18 second chance points. For something that isn't typically part of Cal's game it played a pretty important role in Cal's win. It's a nice side benefit to Monty's new jumbo package - Bak and Solomon's length and athleticism really open up opportunities on the glass.
So where to the Bears stand now? Surprise wins over WSU and USC, a 3 game winning streak, and one of the toughest schedules in the nation have Cal fans dreaming of a stunning run towards an NCAA at-large spot. I have a hard time seeing it, unless the Bears manage to win every game they are favored to win, plus an upset or two over Arizona, Washington and Washington St. But the Bears have demonstrated the talent, effort and coaching to beat everybody in the conference except for Washington, so we can all still hold out hope against long odds. And there's always the Pac-10 tournament . . .