The last time the Oregon State Beavers won a true road game, Barack Obama was president. The last time Cal lost 10 games in a row John F. Kennedy was president. Something had to give tonight at Haas Pavilion, as the frustration of Cal’s worst season in most of our lifetimes clashed with Oregon State’s continuing futility away from Gill Coliseum. It took 2 hours and 27 minutes to decide whose momentum was stronger. 51 fouls were called in the game, and the fans in attendance got to watch the players take 57 free throws. And after Oregon State got off to an early hot start, with Don MacLean urging people to leave the arena to protest the bad officiating, prospects of a happy ending seemed dim.
But this was the weekend of Jordan Brown’s official visit and the Bears, tired of being everyone else’s doormat for 5 weeks, rose to the occasion and fought back. They put together a 14-0 run, went into the locker room up 8, held off the Beavers in the 2nd half, and climbed out of the Pac-12 basement with their 2nd win of the conference season.
Final Score: Cal 74 - Oregon State 70
The reality is Cal did not suddenly make an incredible leap in one game. Even amidst the incessant losing their trajectory has not been horrific. Improved defense and competitive intensity have been evident for weeks now, unfortunately combined with continuing offensive struggles and a talent gap that has been too wide to overcome. Several shifts allowed them to break the losing streak tonight:
- After an abysmal effort in Pullman on January 13, the Bears have faced five games against clearly superior competition, so as Cal’s effort and execution have improved, they have been unable to stay in it against overwhelming talent deficits. Oregon State was the worst opponent to visit Haas Pavilion since before Christmas, and Cal was finally able to show their progress on a level playing field.
- For the last several weeks Cal’s defensive scheme has favored more man to man looks, and less of the zone that was too easily exploited from the perimeter. Cal had been contesting the three point line better, evident from a reduction in opponent attempts, but opponents stubbornly kept making more than their share of the shots they did take. Most recently, Oregon came in on Thursday shooting 31% in conference, and decided to go 8-15 from behind the arc. Well tonight, the #Kod5 gods decided they want Jordan Brown to come to Cal, as the Beavers -- 35% in conference -- decided to shoot just 5-17 (29%) behind the line, including a critical sequence with 1:30 remaining when OSU missed three consecutive open deep looks.
- Defense wasn’t really the story tonight, however, as the 1.09 points per possession the Bears allowed was not meaningfully better than the 1.16, 1.12, 1.08, 1.12, and 1.02 they’ve allowed in the last 5 games. The difference tonight was on offense, where the Bears 1.16 glorious points per possession were the best they’ve managed in conference play. A few factors made the offense more efficient:
(1) Darius McNeill, mired in a weeks-long slump, showed up as an offensive threat, putting up 16 points on 11 shots, including three makes from deep.
(2) Juhwan Harris-Dyson has looked more and more like a savant defensively, but has been an offensive liability. His 9 points on 4 shots tonight may not look like much, but they make him a threat offensively, and combined with Darius’s production -- suddenly there’s a back court that can take the pressure off our posts, who are often asked to carry too much offensive load. Juhwan is attacking defenses more confidently, a promising sign for the future.
(3) Speaking of posts, Kingsley Okoroh took advantage of the excruciatingly tight whistle by earning 14 free throw attempts and dropping 12 of them. Going into the game, he had attempted only 11 free throws during the entire conference season. It’s unlikely he will ever have a 12-14 night again. But it kind of doesn’t matter. What matters is Jordan Brown was here to see it, and we got the W.
The Bears scrapped and hustled and fought all night. But that’s not news. They’ve been doing that for weeks. This team hasn’t come close to giving up. You see that in every minute Nick Hamilton is on the floor, in every Don Coleman floor burn.
The news was that tonight their fight was rewarded, and they were able to, perhaps, glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel. And if you were a young man from Napa in attendance at Haas Pavilion, maybe you saw it too.