Let’s face it: now is probably a good time for the 5-24 Oregon State Beavers (1-15 in Pac-12 play) to be visiting Haas Pavilion. The 18-9 California Golden Bears (9-6 in conference) are on a three-game losing streak after a frustratingly narrow 68-65 loss to Oregon and could use a jolt of euphoria. Cal will soon embark on a two-game trip to Utah and Colorado, but the Bears can’t get caught gazing beyond the present.
The Beavers enjoyed their first conference win over Utah last Sunday before falling at Stanford 79-66 on Wednesday night. Cuonzo Martin should be preparing his charges for the Stephen Thompson, Jr. who buried the Utes, not the one who managed just eight points against the Cardinal.
Thompson blasted Utah for 31 points, including 5-9 on three-pointers. That was just a game after Colorado held him to 2-12 from the field. If you put aside the six games played by Tres Tinkle prior to his suffering a severe wrist injury, Thompson leads OSU in scoring average. For whatever reason, he was at his best during both Utah games in dropping 61 total points. In the last encounter, he demonstrated a step-back move and range extending well beyond the three-point line. He’s not afraid to get into the paint for a layup or quick bounce pass. Needless to say, Thompson at his best can distract defenses from OSU’s most efficient scorer.
The man in question would be forward Drew Eubanks. He boasts a nice mini-hook shot and has good touch from midrange as well. Eubanks gets a lot of looks around the hoop which sometimes come off lobs from Thompson. Eubanks is shooting 60% from the field and serves as the team’s main rim protector.
G Jaquori McLaughlin - 6’4” Fr. - 11.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.1 apg
Primary ball distributor has a three-pointer in six straight contests but was held to 1-8 shooting in his first meeting with the Bears.
G Stephen Thompson, Jr. - 6’4” So. - 16.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.2 apg
He’s the key to any chance the Beavers have at victory and piled up 19 points his last time out against Cal.
G Kendal Manuel - 6’4” Fr. - 7.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.6 apg
Reliable behind the arc at 38% on a high volume of attempts.
F Drew Eubanks - 6’10” So. - 14.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.3 bpg
Team leader and a big fish in a small pond this season. Despite his picking up basketball relatively late, DraftExpress has Eubanks #84 on its draft prospects list, and he still has two more years of eligibility.
C Gligorije Rakocevic - 6’11” So. - 4.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 0.3 bpg
He hasn’t always impressed but did feast on Stanford’s front line of Michael Humphrey and Reid Travis to the tune of 16 points. Getting him into foul trouble should be a priority.
G Ronnie Stacy - 6’4” Jr. - 2.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg
Racked up the steals in non-conference play, but seems to have fallen out of favor lately.
F Ben Koné - 6’8” Fr. - 2.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg
Has struggled to establish himself in the post. The Mountain View native named DeMarcus Cousins as his favorite athlete. No word on whether that has changed now that Cousins plays in New Orleans.
F Daine Muller 6’4” Jr. - 2.1 ppg, 0.8 rpg
Far from a big contributor, but his battle through multiple leg surgeries is admirable. Dished out two assists and hit a three at Maples in an unexpected 14 minutes of playing time.
G Tanner Sanders - 6’5” So. - 0.6 ppg, 1.1 rpg
Coach Wayne Tinkle normally uses no more than eight players, and that’s only if you deign to include Sanders among them.
1. Get back on the horse.
The irony of the Oregon game is that most of us would have accepted a Cal loss as the end result of playing the #6 team in the nation. However, when the Bears opened a 14 point halftime lead it left hope for an impressive victory. By the end of the night, their lead had evaporated along with the rum in my liquor cabinet. My point is: the Bears played at a high level for much of that game, so there’s no reason not to compete in the same fashion even against lesser competition.
2. Remove the Energizer Bunny’s batteries.
I mentioned that the Beavers have just one conference win, but Wayne Tinkle won’t let that get to him. It looked like Oregon State was on its way to defeat against Utah, but he kept up the positive energy. Whether encouraging the home crowd, talking strategy with Rakocevic, or applauding every good play, the man seemed to will his team back into the game. My challenge to the Bears: create an scenario in which even Tinkle gives up. After all, it can’t be easy losing nearly every night, seeing your own son/most dynamic player sidelined, and having your only senior (Cheikh N’Diaye) miss action with a shoulder injury. At least assistant Stephen Thompson, Sr. can still watch his kid play on a nightly basis.
3. Sustain defensive intensity.
Why is it so important for the Bears to maintain their focus without the ball? It’s pretty simple: according to Ken Pomeroy, Cal is the 12th strongest defensive team in the nation while Oregon State is 304th on offense. The Bears rank 11th guarding two-point shots, 24th at perimeter defense, and 37th in block rate. Forgive me for channeling John Madden, but the Beavers can’t win without scoring once in a while.
4. Impress the scouts.
Ivan Rabb surprised nearly everyone by returning for his sophomore season, but he has declared this to be his final regular season home game. Rabb’s primary objective will always be helping the team win, but the big man wouldn’t mind impressing a few paid observers in the process. Cuonzo Martin has a strong opinion about the upcoming NBA draft, remarking: “If there’s a big man taken before him, they’re fools.” Rabb is projected as the 14th overall selection on two of the leading draft sites, but a strong push into March could raise his stock.
5. Make some memories.
Senior Night is always full of emotion. Jabari Bird has shot very well down the stretch and has a good chance to end his Haas career with a bang. Sam Singer isn’t usually flashy but has provided a steady presence particularly over the last three years. Grant Mullins is playing his only season as a Bear but seems to relish the big stage after starring at Columbia. Roger Moute a Bidias doesn’t play much these days, but he helped weather the storm during nonconference play in the absence of Kameron Rooks. Stephen Domingo spent half his career at Georgetown and his play has been something of a riddle, but I’ll always remember his 13 points against UCI helping to avoid the premature end of a long home winning streak. My message to all of them: thanks for your efforts, and enjoy every moment of this one.
Cal won 69-58 in Corvallis on January 21, and kenpom.com is 95% confident that the Bears will end their home slate on a high note.
How to follow: Fox Sports 1 on TV, KGO 810 AM on radio, TuneIn.com on radio stream, 7:00 PM PT on Friday, February 24
Meaningless Prediction: Cal 65, Oregon State 52