We knew it would be tough sledding going on the road with a short turnaround after an emotional overtime game. We knew that Oregon plays much better at home and would ride their frothing-at-the-mouth fans' energy to fire up that trademark press. We knew that the court would be ugly...and it certainly didn't disappoint. What we didn't know is whether our team would have the legs and the poise to match their frenetic pace.
So, having predicted that Cal would go man and slow things down to make it a half-court game...we promptly come out in zone and push it at every opportunity. It's a good thing that Monty's pinkie has more bball knowledge than I do.
After a good start including a Kamp post-up and a Crabbe three, the Duck's defense settled in and started making things tough. Kamp missed a few layups, we turned it over a few times...and Catron decided to submit his application to the "most hated Cal opponents" Hall of Fame.
Between Cal miscues, transition buckets, and scoring from Catron and Nared, Oregon quickly raced out to a double digit lead 22-12 with eleven minutes to go in the half. As is typical when we struggle, we were giving up easy transition baskets, points off of offensive putbacks, and simply couldn't seem to match-up with the strength/agility of the Duck bigs.
Fortunately, the Ducks would occasionally forget about going through Catron and missed a variety of open 3's. Cal kept in contact behind Kamp's inside scoring and Crabbe's outside shooting. For a time. We continued to miss shots and turn it over which allowed the Ducks to rebuild an 11 point lead with eight minutes to play.
Clearly dissatisfied with our defense and rebounding, Monty decided to switch back to man. It gave us a brief boost leading to a 3 from Smith and a beautiful backdoor layup from Jorge. But, our defense continued to give up open shots. Back to back 3's and a wide-open layup from Sim extended the lead to 14 with three minutes to go.
The Bears tried to scrap and keep it close. Jorge ran people over to get to the line. MSF and Bak Bak hit elbow jumpers. And the Brandon Smith hit a sorely needed 3 with seconds to go to cut the lead to 11. Even so, it was 45-34 Oregon at half. Ugh.
The Good: Crabbe looks to be fully recovered and re-discovered his shooting touch. Kamp had some nice post moves and one of the sweetest bounce-passes to a backdoor cutter we've seen all year. Smith continued his run of solid outside shooting. He went 3/4 from deep and helped keep us in the game with eleven 1st half points.
The Bad: We couldn't stop Catron inside or out and gave up way too many offensive boards. We also couldn't keep Nared off the offensive glass and it seemed like we lost all of the hustle plays. Very little production from Jorge and MSF.
The Ugly: Turnovers (9!) - especially the ones that lead to breakaway points were just a backbreaker. We played exactly into their webbed hands. Whether man or zone, our defense looked lethargic and more than a step slow. We gave up all manner of easy baskets and open shots.
Not sure if Monty broke out the drill sergeant routine at half, or just hooked everyone up to IV's and oxygen. Whatever it was, it worked. There was renewed spring in the Bears' step on defense. Although we were still in zone, we switched screens on the perimeter and sent quick double teams at Catron. And back to back offensive boards by MSF which lead to points. Just like that, the lead was single digits.
Then Catron drew consecutive fouls on MSF (not deserved) and Kamp (deserved)and pushed it back to 10. Who answered? Brandon "Money" Smith with a breakaway reverse layup off a Crabbe steal.
The Ducks and Bears exchanged free throws. Then a nice drive by Crabbe lead to free throws. Jorge got a steal for a breakaway...The Ducks missed a long jumper and Jorge pushed with a sweet dish to a trailing Crabbe. Just like that - it was a 3 point game!
The Ducks temporarily rallied with an admittedly spectacular dunk putback as the shot clock expired by their resident pogo stick, Nared. Jones followed with a jumper off an inbounds play. But Jorge and Crabbe both hit 3's and the lead was down to 1.
Long, early jumper by Singler...miss. Smith pushed and found Kamp for a layup. Don't blink. That 11 pt Duck lead at half just turned into a 1 point Cal advantage.
All of sudden, you could feel the arena fall silent and you could almost smell the sweaty fear of a thousand webbed palms.
The two teams exchanged baskets, but you could see that nothing was coming easy anymore for the Ducks. The Bear defense finally came alive and forced Oregon to settle for contested long jumpers. Jorge stroked another 3 and it was 61-57 Cal with 7:51 to go.
A flurry of exchanged baskets...the Ducks managed to tie it up again with 4 minutes to go. So who answered for the Bears? You. Damn. Betcha. Mr. Smith with a huge 3.
The Bear defense forced consecutive turnovers and turned them into a Solomon layup and two more Smith free throws. 7 pt Cal lead with 2:30 to go!
Sim answered with a 3...Seriously? The Ducks picked up full-court, but the Bears broke it easily and worked it inside out to Crabbe who hit a long-range dagger of his own. Stick a fork in 'em - They're done!
The Ugly: I think my tv has permanent burn-in from that hideous floor.
The Bad: I suppose it would be nice to put together two solid halves instead of digging such a big initial hole.
The Good: Solomon had one of his best halves of the year. He was active on both ends and really gave the team a lift. In particular, he was able to match the speed of the smaller Ducks. After being shaky early, our guys settled down and handled the press with ease. Jorge woke up and took over the game by forcing turnovers, nailing open 3's and driving at will. Oregon simply had no answer for him. The unlikeliest guy to carry the team, Brandon Smith built off his solid 1st half with solid ball handling, great passing, and more clutch shooting. Everyone knows that our bigs provide a formidable inside tandem. Tonight, it was the guards that stole the show:
Jorge 23pts, 3 rebs, 5 assists, 1 steal
Brandon: 18 pts, 6 assists, 3 steals,
Crabbe: 19 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds
Overall: As ugly as the 1st half was, the 2nd half was a thing of beauty. It would have been easy for the guys to use fatigue and travel as an excuse, to succumb to the emotion of the hostile crowd. And for a time, it looked like Oregon would just run us out of their ugly gym. But, it was the littlest Bear who stood bravely against the storm. When everyone else was sucking wind and couldn't seem to buy a bucket, it was Brandon Smith who stepped up and said, "I got this." He kept us close until Jorge and the rest of the guys could find their sea legs. It was a fine display of teamwork and passing against the Oregon press that re-ignited the offense. All of the guys took turns coming up big. Whether it was MSF beast-moding the offensive glass, Crabbe nailed from deep, Kamp with the nifty post-ups, or Solomon in attack mode. But, it was the renewed energy on defense which ultimately turned the tide in the Bears' favor. We used a switching zone on the perimeter to stay with their shooters, and doubled Catron forcing him to give up the ball. You have to give credit to Monty for dialing up the proper defensive adjustments as well as whatever motivational techniques, illegal or otherwise, that he employed to get the team back off the ropes.
It is with great pleasure that I declare Matt Court to be Bear Territory. All in favor of a fire sale? Even so, it's no rest for the weary. We leaned on our starters again and need to regroup for the Beavers and their soul-destroying 1-3-1 zone.
Let's worry about that one tomorrow. For now, savor this comeback victory and appreciate the efforts of your never-quitting, never-dying Golden Bears.