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Cal 71, OSU 68: Bears Surmount Double Digit Deficit

Some day, the Bears just might play a complete game. But until that happens, be thankful that today's opponent was Oregon State, rather than a team better equipped to hold onto a 2nd half double digit lead.

The Thurmanator doesn't even need to look at the basket while he's busy Thurmanating.
The Thurmanator doesn't even need to look at the basket while he's busy Thurmanating.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The first 10 minutes of the game was a defensive nightmare for the Bears. I went back through the play-by-play, and if I counted correctly, Oregon State scored on 12 of their first 16 possessions. Wide open 3s, fast break layups, easy tip-in put-backs . . . it was ugly. Even OSU's missed shots were pretty wide open. The Bears came out completely flat, at least defensively. And so after just 12 minutes of game time, the Bears were losing by 12 points at home to a team with one Pac-12 win.

And then Cal outscored OSU 53-38 the rest of the way. Which is much more how I expected the game to go, generally speaking. It's just frustrating that it took the Bears 12 minutes to wake up. There are only two or three teams in the Pac-12 that you can do that against and perhaps come back and win against. And if this game was in Corvallis, the Bears probably leave with an L.

There's a simple stat to illustrate the difference in Cal's 1st half defense and 2nd half defense:

OSU points in the paint, 1st half: 22
OSU points in the paint, 2nd half: 10

The Bears decided to not let Roberto Nelson free reign to drive to the basket and either score, assist a teammate, or miss a shot that's put back by a teammate. And if OSU stopped scoring, their defense probably wasn't going to provide nearly enough resistance to prevent the Cal comeback.

Interestingly, Cal came back from a sizable deficit to win without getting a great game their best player. Allen Crabbe was finally left more or less open to shoot threes for the entirety of the game. This never happens. Every single team in the conference designed their defense around frustrating Allen Crabbe. But today he was open whenever he wanted to be, and he only shot 3-11 from behind the arc, 5-16 overall. Not an awful game, and he certainly wasn't forcing bad shots. They just weren't falling as often as you'd expect.

Thankfully the 3s were falling for Justin Cobbs, who hit three of his four in the 2nd half, including the shot that put Cal ahead to stay with just under three minutes left to play. He also had 5 assists in the 2nd half, as he generally was the driving force in Cal's comeback, at least offensively.

I'll be blunt: Oregon State's defense isn't good. Almost certainly the worst in the Pac-12. They didn't really take anything away from the Bears. Crabbe and Cobbs could take open 3s whenever they wanted. Solomon, Kravish and Thurman all had plenty of space inside. Passing lanes were constantly open. As a defense, there's typically some aspect of an opponent's game that you want to take away. I didn't really see Oregon State prevent Cal from doing anything that they typically try to do. The Bears finished the game with 25 assists on 30 field goals. Credit goes to the Bears for making smart passes and finding the best shots, but discredit also goes to Oregon State for a lack of decent defense. If Crabbe has a better shooting night, this game might be a comfortable 10 point win.

I've now spent lots of words talking about our guards, which makes sense in that Cal usually goes as they go. But perhaps most of the credit should go to Solomon, Kravish and Thurman, who combined for 32 points on 76% shooting to go along with 8 assists. That's absurd efficiency, even for a group of players that mostly take shots within a few feet of the basket. In the game thread people were complaining about how few fouls OSU committed - but that might have had something to do with how few shots they contested. Post players don't shoot 75% from the field unless they are really talented or the defense is indifferent . . . or both.

Other notes:

-After two games in which Cal collected a ton of steals, I promised to keep paying attention to see if something fundamental had changed for Cal's defense. They managed only 3 today. Not sure what to make of it all, other than to say that last week really looks like a bizarre anomaly.

-Jeff Powers tweaked his knee trying to make a hustle play, and was unable to leave the floor under his own power. Hopefully it's nothing major, but from the replay and the pain he looked to be in, I wouldn't be surprised if he's out for a decent amount of time. Cal's depth may take another hit. More importantly, best luck to Mr. Powers with the injury, and hopefully he'll be back hitting powerful 3s soon.

-Cal might've won in part because Eric Moreland hit just 2 of his 8 free throws when his career would suggest he'd typically make 4 or 5.

Rather than write a concluding paragraph, I'm just going to steal what I wrote after the Utah game last week with a few modifications:

Ultimately, this win doesn't tell us much. So far, Cal has been a thoroughly mediocre Pac-12 team. Lose to UCLA, beat USC. Lose to Washington, beat Wazzu. Beat Utah . . . and Colorado is up next, lose to Colorado. If Cal wants to turn a corner, they'll start earning sweeps rather than splits. But road home wins don't come much tougher than at Colorado Oregon, and despite their struggles getting embarrassed by Stanford, you'd have to give the Buffs Ducks the benefit of the doubt right now.

So: Kudos, Bears, for taking care of business. But the tougher test comes Sunday Saturday.