Oregon beat Cal last night in a manner that was frustrating but not particularly surprising last night. But before we start recapping that game, it's time to appreciate what has ended: Cal's remarkable 12 game winning streak over Oregon.
The streak was remarkable because these are two teams that haven't been particularly different. The streak lasted over six seasons. Over those first two years, Cal was pretty excellent under Mike Montgomery while the Ernie Kent era was finishing up its death spiral. But over the last four years the two teams have been virtually indistinguishable. Cal went 45-27 in conference play, while Oregon went 42-30. One year saw Oregon make the NCAAs as a 7 seed while Cal ended the season in the NIT. Cal still beat Oregon, by 13 points on the road. Go figure.
The streak featured 42 point blowouts and last second buzzer beaters. It featured high scoring shoot outs and ugly defensive slugfests. It was random, inexplicable, and very fun. And now it's over.
The main reason the streak is over is because Oregon can shoot the ball very, very well. The Ducks are 2nd in the conference in eFG% and 1st in free throw percentage. They have a coach who knows how to get those good shooters into good positions to make shots, and Cal wasn't able to have much success slowing them down defensively.
For 25 minutes, Cal was able to score right with the Ducks, mostly thanks to unusually excellent 3 point shooting. But Cal was never going to win a shooting contest with Oregon, and so when Cal's shots (and free throws) stopped falling they had no answer. A 17-4 run turned a 4 point Cal lead into a 9 point Oregon lead, and the deficit would stay around 10 points for the rest of the game.
Why else did Cal lose? Here are a few other reasons:
- 2nd half offensive rebounds: Cal oddly pulled down the first seven offensive boards of the game. This isn't exactly Cal's forte, and sure enough Oregon won that battle 11-1 the rest of the way. It lead to a back-breaking 10 2nd half points for the Ducks after halftime. And this wasn't exactly Cal getting overpowered. Half the time, Oregon's quicker guards just got to the ball first. Even more frustratingly, a couple saw Cal players essentially box each other out, or fumble the ball to a Duck. The Bears didn't have their best hands last night.
- The refs: For the record, the refs called the game evenly. They were equally willing to call unnecessary touch fouls and phantom whistles on both teams! Oregon was rightly aggrieved by a particularly awful charge call when Jabari Bird was within the restricted area.
No, the refs called the game in a way that obviously benefited Oregon's strengths. Oregon is 8th in the nation in FT%, and Cal is 319th. Oregon gained 6 points at the line because the entire 2nd half was a free throw parade that was very much in favor of the team that's good at shooting free throws.
On a side note, I miss Jerome Randle and company.
- Joseph Young: Yeah, he's his own category. A number of times, Cal forced him to take shots that would be bad shots for nearly every player in the country. He made them anyway. That's a valuable weapon to have, and he did his thing against the Bears. I don't think Cal's defense against him was brilliant or anything - Cal lost him too frequently as he floated out on the perimeter - but it was awful either. He went for a smooth 25.
- Jabari Bird had perhaps his best half as a Bear, then followed it up with a frustratingly uneven 2nd half. He was still Cal's best offensive player on the night, but it was frustrating to watch him explode for 16 first half points, then attempt just one shot in the first 10 minutes of the 2nd half, then try to make up for it by launching some ill-advised shots late in the game.
Still though: that first half was tantalizing. That athletic put-back dunk was spectacular, but just as important was his decision making in terms of when to shoot, when to pass, and when to drive. He doesn't bring that level of play all the time, but it's nice to have a reminder that it's out there.
- David Kravish struggled with his hands and with his finishing at times, but still finished with 14 points in 39 minutes. And because Kravish stayed out of foul trouble against a team that plays 4 guards, it meant that Kingsley Okoroh didn't play for the 2nd time this year. I don't really have a problem with the decision, because Cal's problems against Oregon (securing rebounds and avoiding fouls) aren't really Kingsley's strengths anyway.
- Tyrone Wallace again had one of those days where none of his runners fell, and that was a major reason Cal wasn't able to keep pace. That said, I thought Ty mostly did a good job in terms of decision making as a point guard, and it's not like he was taking bad shots. It's just a frustrating reality for Cal's limited offense.
- Sam Singer got significant minutes, I suspect mostly because he was the only Cal defender that had any particular success slowing down Young.
- Christian Behrens returned to the court, though he only provided 2 fouls, a turnover and a missed shot in 4 minutes. He's rusty, but it's nice to see that his knee issue was minor after all of the injury problems he's had to fight through.