As is often the case in any sport, but particularly basketball - it's tough to determine root causes. With one minute left until halftime, Cal trailed by 14 points. The Bears had been trailing by double digits since the 5:54 mark. Was this because 1) Oregon State was playing really well 2) Cal was playing particularly poorly or 3) because of random variance?
Usually, the answer is all of the above. But put me down mostly for category three. Oregon State was shooting the nets off the hoop in the first half, and it's not like they were getting great look after great look. Most of the damage came from 7-8 shooting from behind the arc, but the Beavers hit other tough shots too.
My main issue with Cal's play was how passive the Bears looked on offense against a defense that can charitably be described as porous. Too often Cal settled for mediocre shots when they could have gotten better looks, and while they weren't playing bad basketball, it probably wasn't basketball good enough to win on the road.
Thankfully, Cal snapped out of it even before halftime. I'm not a believer in the concept of momentum, but it certainly felt good to see Cobbs and Solomon hook up for two emphatic alley oop dunks in the final minute of the first half to cut the deficit to a more manageable 10. The Bears would maintain their initiative after the break, and all things told Cal went on a 24-9 run that spanned halftime to turn a 14 point deficit into a 1 point lead.
It was Justin Cobbs who did the majority of the heavy lifting. Cal made 11 baskets in that span, Cobbs either made or assisted on 7 of them. Of course, that run wasn't enough to win the game - it was only enough get things even again. It took another senior to give Cal a solid lead.
So how about Jeff Powers? He hit three from behind the arc in the second half in a four minute span that started with the Bears down four and ended with the Bears up nine. The game was never in doubt the rest of the way, despite lots of Oregon State fouling and a meaningless buzzer-beating three from Roberto Nelson that added a cosmetic score to the game and helped out his quest to lead the conference in scoring.
Powers also grabbed a steal, took a charge, threw his body around, and generally played excellent defense. He's in the game to hit jumpers, but I suspect that Monty's letting him stay in games because he's improved his defense.
Cal's 3rd senior, Richard Solomon, had himself another solid game and was just two rebounds short of another double double. I suspect he would have made it there, but he picked up his 3rd foul early in the 2nd half on a completely inexplicable foul and spent more time on the bench than we'd all prefer. Luckily it didn't particularly impact the Bears because of the great minutes they got from Powers and from a suddenly rejuvenated (i.e. healthy) Christian Behrens.
The Bears didn't have a ton of success slowing down Roberto Nelson, and Angus Brandt was surprisingly effective against Cal's usually stalwart interior defense, but nobody else on OSU did a ton of damage. Tyrone Wallace drew Nelson for the majority of the game, and although Nelson certainly got his points, he shot from below .500 from the field and turned the ball over six times. One was an impressive bit of back court pick-pocketry from Wallace in crunch time that allowed Cal to run more clock when the game was still somewhat in doubt.
One final note before we get to the chart: that was probably the most highlight-filled game of the year, right? Probably a factor of playing the worst defense in the conference, but two alley oops, one monstrous Ty Wallace slam, a few other dunks and some POWERful threes? That's a game with a packed reel. This team is so much fun right now.
Glorious Chart of Victory!
A somewhat unusual chart, at least for Monty-ball. Shooting, rebounding and free throws were virtually identical. Cal won because of turnovers, and that's something you rarely say. The Bears just don't force turnovers. It's not their thing. 312th in the nation in defensive turnover rate, and that's basically by design.
No, Cal won for two reasons: the Bears took immaculate care of the ball, and Oregon State is simply a turnover prone team. I wouldn't ordinarily expect that to be the decisive factor when these two teams play, but on a day that saw Oregon State perhaps shoot a bit better against Cal's defense than you might expect, that OSU weakness was the difference.
And so the Bears have won three straight conference road games, by an average margin of eight points. Who saw that one coming? With three straight winnable games on the horizon, Cal has a sudden and unexpected opportunity to make some serious noise in the Pac-12. They'll try to do it back in the friendly confines of Haas Pavilion, where I hope two very large and boisterous crowds will be on hand to watch.