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Cal seeks signature win against No. 6 Oregon

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Bears are 0-5 vs. RPI top 25

NCAA Basketball: California at Oregon Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Through 26 games, Cal has put together a respectable NCAA Tournament resume:

  • 18 wins
  • 9-5 conference record
  • No losses to teams outside the RPI top 100

The one glaring weakness? A lack of quality wins. The Bears are 0-5 against top-25 RPI opponents and 1-6 vs. top-50 RPI teams.

That could change Wednesday night when No. 6 Oregon comes to town. At 24-4 (13-2), the Ducks rank sixth in the RPI and are, by all accounts, one of the most talented teams in the country. An upset victory might not guarantee the Bears a tournament bid, but it would go a long way.

“I think it would mean a lot,” said sophomore forward Ivan Rabb. “We need a signature win. This team just so happens to be in the way. We just need to go out and try to do whatever we can to pull it out.”

Added senior guard Jabari Bird: “We've got to go into tomorrow's game knowing that if we don't win, it's going to be an uphill battle trying to make the tournament. We've got to go into that game with a lot of desperation and urgency.”

Cal has come close to earning that elusive signature win on a few occasions. The Bears led No. 18 Virginia with under six minutes remaining, before falling 56-52 at Haas Pavilion on December 21. Cal also hung with fourth-ranked Arizona, twice, losing each game by five points. But as the saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

“We'll be there the entire game,” said Bird of those narrow defeats. “We just didn't close them out. So if tomorrow night is a close game, we've got to be able to finish it.”

As of this moment, Cal's best win of the season, and really its only quality win came January 8 at USC, currently ranked 31st in the RPI. The Bears have three other top-100 RPI wins: home victories against Princeton (59), Stanford (66), and Utah (94).

That's why Wednesday's game vs. Oregon is so important. It will be Cal's last chance in the regular season to register a top-25 RPI win, and a second top-50 RPI win. Even though ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently projects Cal as a 10 seed in the tournament, the Bears would rather not head into Selection Sunday with just one quality victory.

An upset of the sixth-ranked Ducks will be no easy task. Unlike its games against Arizona and Virginia, Cal's first meeting with Oregon this season was not close; the Ducks rolled to an 86-63 victory January 19 in Eugene, thanks in part to 20 Bears turnovers.

“They do a great job of capitalizing on your mistakes,” said associate head coach Tracy Webster. “That's what we have to do a better job of this game, making sure we don't have those crucial turnovers.”

“They can score the ball in spurts and they can get stops too,” added Bird. “There's a lot of pressure on your defense because they score so well. We've got to really cut down on turnovers because they score off that too.”

However, Oregon is a very different team at home and on the road. The Ducks are quite simply untouchable in Eugene, having won 42 straight games, the longest active home win streak in the nation. But they're just 4-3 in true road games this season, including a loss to unranked Colorado.

Meanwhile, Cal is an impressive 14-2 at Haas Pavilion this season, and they'll have the help of a “goldout” Wednesday night. The Bears also have history on their side, having won seven of their last nine home games against the Ducks, including all three matchups where Oregon was ranked.

“We've just got to do it,” said Bird. “We know we have the talent and the pieces to do it. We're capable.”