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Ivan Rabb carries Cal over OSU and into Pac-12 semifinals against Utah

Cal's freshman big goes for 21 and 15 to propel the Bears past a pesky Oregon State.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

March basketball is terrifying and wonderful. Terrifying because sometimes a forgotten freshman with 4 DNPs in Pac-12 play goes for 25 points on 11 shots. Wonderful because sometimes your local, five-star, program-reviving power forward decides that he's not in the mood to take a loss.

Granted, this is 'just' the Pac-12 tournament, and Cal will be dancing next week regardless. If Derrick Bruce had continued to hit unassisted step back 3s to lead OSU to victory, Cal's season would not be over. But it's a reminder of how fragile a season can be this time of year.

Thankfully, we have Ivan. There are plenty of ways to illustrate how good he was tonight, but here's a simple, stark comparison:

Ivan Rabb: 21 points, 15 rebounds, 4 blocks, 1 steal
Jarmal Reid, Olaf Schaftenaar, Drew Eubanks, Cheikh N'Diaye, Gligorije Rakocevic, combined: 5 points, 10 rebounds, 5 turnovers, 14 fouls committed

Those five dudes listed above? That's every single power forward and center that Oregon State had to throw at Ivan. He destroyed all of them. When he wasn't busy getting every OSU interior defender into foul trouble and going 9-11 from the field, he was busy hoovering up every rebound within reach, and using his length to cause all kinds of issues for OSU's offense. Of course, you know what's better than words and stats? Actually watching what Ivan does:

Cal needed all of that production for a variety of reasons. Not surprisingly, Gary Payton did plenty of Gary Payton things en route to 20 points. Surprisingly, backup guard Derrick Bruce exploded for 25 points via an impressive collection of step-back buckets and stutter-step drives that made you wonder why he came in averaging just 10 minutes/game. And frustratingly, Jaylen Brown had his 3rd straight poor game, with 6 turnovers without much offensive creation as a counter-balance.

The result was a back-and-forth game for most of the 2nd half. With 15:32 left in the half Oregon State got within 5 points - no team would be able to build the lead past that mark until Ivan grabbed an offensive board and got fouled on the put back. He hit the free throw to put Cal up 7 and the game was essentially over.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the continued contributions of Jabari Bird, absurdly hot 3 point shooter. Jabari hit another five triples, three of which came a) right after OSU tied the game b) right after OSU took their first lead and c) brought Cal back into a tie after OSU took a 3 point lead. He's now shooting 44% against Pac-12 competition, and each one was essential against the Beavers.

Random thoughts:

  • Kam and King combined to play just 22 minutes as Cuonzo elected to play small against OSU's mostly small line-ups. Cal's smaller lineups were generally weaker on defense without 7 foot centers to offer help defense, but OSU's inability to double down low did allow Ivan to go off and Cal did force more turnovers than usual, so I'm feeling a bit more sanguine about Cuonzo's decision now than I was in the middle of the game.
  • Over the last three games Jaylen has more turnovers (10) than made shots (6). On the bright side, Cal has managed to win two of those games anyway, but Jaylen rediscovering his driving and finishing flow is the difference between comfortable wins and games that could end up being final minute toss ups.
  • Praise when praise is due: Ty had a really nice passing game on offense (career high 10 assists!) to make up for another rough finishing night. Woe be unto the team that has to deal with us when Ty and Jaylen regress to the mean, he told himself as he secretly worried.
  • OSU was able to stay in the game in large part by shooting 9-16 from behind the arc. Cal allowed more looks from 3 than you would typically expect, but the Beavers still shot over their heads. Thankfully, Cal's ever reliable 2 point defense (36%) came through again.
  • Ivan was 3-10 from the line including missing 3 different front ends of 1-and-1s. If he happened to hit the freebies, maybe the game wouldn't have been so stressful. C'est la vie.
This win, over an RPI top 30 team at a neutral site, likely locks Cal into a 6 seed at worst, which is a great position to be in. Obviously, we all want more wins in Vegas, but the Bears are in a no-risk zone where they can only help their resume. With that in mind, what's next?

Quickie Utah Preview

If you're interested in Utah's personnel or statistical profile, 95% of the information in CGB's last two previews will still be accurate.

Utah, like Cal, played a quarter-final game where they got a lead, gave up the lead, then made plays down the stretch to win by a reasonably comfortable margin. Utah's interior duo of Poeltl and Kuzma pretty thoroughly toyed with USC's defense, and only a game effort on the other end from the Trojans kept things close.

As I'm sure you'll hear frequently during the broadcast, this is a match-up of two of the hottest teams in the country. The Bears have won 9 of 10, Utah 8 in a row. Both are gunning for top 4 seeds. This is close to a sweet 16 level game. Against a Tres-Tinkle-less Oregon State, Cal could get away with iffy finishing an a negative game from key players. Utah is unlikely to afford the Bears that same luxury.

Two games earlier this season, two decisive wins for the home team in each. The rubber match is tomorrow at 8:30 on Fox Sports 1. Beyond that, four teams are left in Vegas. Four teams that are universally regarded as top 25 level teams. The first two rounds were very light on drama, but the last three games should be titanic. This is what you play for.