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Cal Shows Up Late to Corvallis, Can't Complete 2nd Half Comeback To Oregon State

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Cal loses to OSU to fall to 2-2 in Pac-12

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

"We just didn't play hard at all. We didn't play with any toughness. We didn't play together. We've got to get that corrected in the 2nd half."

That's what Cuonzo Martin said at halftime. And frankly, he was being generous. In the second game of a tough trip to the hinterlands of Oregon, the Golden Bears showed up to Gill Coliseum to face the Oregon State Beavers...or did they? The team Cuonzo Martin was expecting to show up wasn't there. The team we gave up our Saturday night to watch wasn't there. When Gary Payton's progeny closed the half by following his own shot uncontested, while three Cal players looked on in wonder, it ended an abysmal 20 minutes of basketball by the men in gold.

Nine turnovers against a team that forces 12 a game.

10 OSU offensive rebounds on 21 missed shots (48%). OSU usually gets an offensive board 29% of the time.

Seven layups out of 17 OSU made baskets.

Halftime score: Oregon State 38 - Cal 27

And here's another number to consider, before we talk about the 2nd half:

31.5%

Out of 19 Pac-12 games so far this year, the road team has won just six. It is a tightly packed conference. 11 teams are among the top 100 in the country, and WSU is not far behind at 122. When, say, a top 80 team plays a top 15 team on their home court, they are only a 3-4 point underdog. That's what all the Pac-12 contenders will face this year. Every single road game is going to be a challenge this season, and if you don't believe that ask Sean Miller and Arizona, who were also swept on the road this week.

So let's go back to what Cuonzo said at halftime:

"We just didn't play hard at all. We didn't play with any toughness. We didn't play together. We've got to get that corrected in the 2nd half."

Can you get a road win in the Pac-12 if that happens? Can you fail to show up for the first half of a game and still overcome the odds? We gave it a game effort, but no, probably not. Not tonight, and probably not for the rest of the year.

Tardy, but game, the Golden Bears did show up for the second half. After Cal's formerly elite 2p defense failed them in the first half (45.5%), they held OSU to 39% 2p shooting and gave up only three layups after intermission. The Bears gave up five offensive rebounds on 15 missed shots--not ideal, but a much better effort. And most importantly, after a pedestrian first half, the Bears produced the "offensive explosion" Bill Walton demanded during the break, shooting a torrid 15-23 FG (65%) including 6-10 from deep--for a mind boggling 1.41 points per possession.

Two things held back the Bear comeback. First, there were 17 fouls called in the first half and 26 called in the second. OSU shot five FTs in the first, and 22 in the second. 22 free throws. In a half. The officiating was probably inconsistently fair (or fairly inconsistent) on both ends, but the unfortunate reality is that in order to come back you need to get stops, and it's hard to get stops when the other team is on the free throw line. The tenor of the way the game was called made the Bears pay deeply for their first half sins.

Despite this handicap, the Bears made a valiant effort and twice cut the lead to one possession. Locked in a seemingly endless uphill battle, they fought with the intensity their coach asked for at halftime. When a two point deficit ballooned back to eight, then six, then back to eight again, they continued to dig in and fight. But then the second thing held them back.

  • With 5 minutes remaining and the lead at six, the Bears played a great defensive possession. Hedging nicely on Gary Payton II with :10 on the shot clock, they forced a bail out pass to Stephen Thompson Jr. 25 feet from the hoop. He dribbled into the paint, was met by two defenders, dribbled backward to the three point line and, with :03 on the shot clock faded into a horrible shot. Swish. Of course.

Undeterred, however, the Bears continued to fight.

  • On the backs of Jaylen Brown and Jordan Mathews, they cut the lead to three with 1:40 left. They again had an excellent defensive possession. OSU set up a double high screen that the Bears played beautifully, forcing the ball out of Payton's hands. With the clock at :04, Tres Tinkle received the ball on the right wing. He drove baseline, was cut off nicely by Mathews, and threw up a 13-foot fadeaway prayer from behind the backboard. Swish. Dagger. Game over.

The Bears did not deserve to win tonight. You can't show up for half of a conference road game and expect to win anything. But they still COULD have won that game, and they put themselves in position to complete an inspiring 2nd half comeback. However, if you're going to win such games, your prayers have to go in and the other team's have to stay out. That didn't happen in Corvallis.

Oregon State 77 - Cal 71.

I wrote in this space last week that I thought Cal had learned focus and toughness. Evidently I jumped the gun. Well, at 2-2 in conference they need to figure it out before next week at Maples Pavilion, because they now find themselves nearing must-win territory.

Miscellaneous

  • Jaylen Brown continues his maturation. He finished with 20 points on 13 shots, is learning to play within the flow, and most importantly is showing the biggest heart on the team. The upperclassmen need to ask themselves why a freshman is the player leading by example. (We are going to ignore his FT struggles for now.)

  • Jabari Bird is looking for his mojo. 1-7 shooting including 0-3 3p and 1-3 FTs is a huge handicap for the offense. To his credit, he continues to keep his head in the game and has played the best defense we've seen in his three years at Berkeley. But a decent offensive night might have been a game changer.

  • Kingsley Okoroh started over Kameron Rooks, but because of matchups neither big man played much. They combined for 12 minutes.