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Bears Step Up Defensively On The Road, Defeat Oregon

It can be hard for Cal fans to be optimistic, and so when we're presented with evidence that we've got a pretty good team, you sometimes find yourself looking for flaws. When Cal lost to Oregon St. I became concerned that Cal had one of two possible fatal flaws: 1) An inability to beat decent or better teams on the road and 2) a defense unable to deal with a certain level of athleticism and execution. I feared that these possible flaws would deny the Bears a shot at the conference championship

This, of course, was probably irrational, and certainly an over reaction - losing to elite teams like UNLV and Missouri away from home isn't exactly a shock and it's impossible to draw any conclusions from the Oregon St. game since only a few thousand people saw the game. Nevertheless, it was incredibly satisfying to watch Cal generally bottle up a team with solid athleticism and a number of productive, well rounded offensive players on the road.

True, Oregon doesn't have a spectacular offense, but they are roughly as effective as other Pac-12 teams that Cal will need to beat - your Stanfords, your Colorados, your Arizonas. It would be one thing if Cal simply outscored Oregon, because that would portend poorly when they face teams with much stiffer defenses. But Cal controlled both ends, and held Oregon to .9 points/possession despite 13 second chance points.

It's those second chance points that bring us to one important development: The continued return of Richard Solomon. In his first game back, it sounded like Solo was rusty, and the box score backs that up - just 11 minutes, only 1 rebound, no blocks, 1 attempted shot and 2 fouls. It was a completely different story Sunday night.

In just 17 minutes Richard had the type of outsized impact fans have been dreaming about since they saw his combination of size and athleticism. 10 rebounds and 3 blocks don't really tell the story of how he impacted the game, because he fairly well controlled the paint defensively despite still showing signs of rust. For one thing, 9 of Oregon's 14 offensive rebounds came with Solomon off the floor, and one of the offensive rebounds Oregon did get credited for was when Solomon rebounded the ball and then fumbled it out of bounds. Solo's presence completely changes the paint, even when he's not sucking up double-digit defensive boards or scoring points.

I would expect Solomon to return to the starting lineup for Colorado. He's not in Monty's doghouse (he had returned to the starting lineup before sustaining his injury) and the way he played against Oregon certainly implies that he's fully healthy. Hopefully he's ready to play 25-30 minutes, because right now you could make a credible argument that with his skill-set he is Cal's 2nd or 3rd most important player.

Cal's beautiful big tall bar in OR% (and Oregon's comparatively shorter bar) is mostly Solomon. If Cal had this Solomon against the Beavers, I'm curious how things would've been different. OK, Solo probably would've fouled out in 18 minutes after Jared Cunningham bounced off of him 5 times.

The other positive development can be seen in Cal's eFG%, and that was Allen Crabbe taking over in the 2nd half. Cal was up just four points midway through the half. Then Allen scored 14 points in 3:06 of gametime, and the game was functionally over.

We all know that Allen can shoot the ball, but after fretting about his lack of assertiveness as recently as the first half, it was a joy to watch him blow up. These weren't all simple wide-open catch-and-shoot jumpers - there were contested fast break runners, and face up 3s with defenders in his face. Honestly, I can't recall Allen taking his man one-on-one and then pulling up in his face to bury a three . . . ever. It's probably happened before and I either missed it or don't remember. But he did it twice against Oregon, and it's exactly what we'll need from him against the tougher teams on the conference schedule.

The one negative observation from yesterday's game was a rough outing from Harper Kamp, who finished with just 4 points, 0 rebounds and 4 turnovers in 25 minutes. I think there's been a general sense that Harper hasn't been contributing at the same level that he did last year, and that's backed up somewhat in the stats. He's playing less minutes and taking less shots, and as a consequence his scoring is down. His turnovers are up somewhat.

I'm not going to read much into this game - he was frequently matched up on 6'11' Tony Woods, which is a tough, tough assignment to score on. And it's been pointed out that it's Harper's job to clear out so that other players can pull down defensive rebounds. But considering his limited minutes and decreased production I think it's probably reasonable to assume that his knees are hindering him more this season than last year, something that Monty openly discussed prior to the season.

Even if he's not scoring as much, his presence is important as an interior defender and as a great passer and spacer in the post. And if he does start producing at the same rate he did last year the Bears will be that much better.

The Bears managed to split arguably their toughest road trip of the season, which means they are more or less right where they want to be. The win raises their conference record to 3-1, 2nd place behind undefeated Colorado . . who will be at Haas on Thursday night. The Buffs have two home wins over teams expected to occupy the bottom of the standings, but they also have a surprising 18 point win over Washington. Cal should still be solid favorites playing at home, but it's far from a gimme. Hopefully Cal builds on a bit of momentum by handing the Buffs their first Pac-12 loss on the hardcourt.