This was one the Bears could have lost. Maybe should have lost.
Instead, they rallied from a 16-point first-half hole and zoomed to an 81-71 victory over Oregon at Matthew Knight Arena, bumping them into sole possession of fifth place in the Pac-10 standings.
“We were lucky to be down 11 at the half,” coach Mike Montgomery said. “I hate to say that, but we were. It could have been a lot worse.”
Cal (15-13, 8-8) can clinch an overall winning record by beating Oregon State on Saturday in Corvallis. The Bears routed OSU 85-57 last month in Berkeley.
The Beavers (10-16, 5-10) beat Stanford 87-80 on Thursday night, snapping their four-game losing streak.
Defense turned around the game at Eugene and led to Cal’s seventh straight win over the Ducks.
Oregon led 40-24 after 16 minutes and was doing pretty much what it wanted. The Bears outscored the Ducks 55-31 the rest of the way. After shooting 57 percent in the first half, the Ducks were limited to 42 percent in the second half, including 2 for 11 from 3-point range.
The Bears converted 62.5 percent in the second half and had just three turnovers in the final 20 minutes after coughing up nine in the first half.
A few individual numbers:
— Junior guard Jorge Gutierrez, coming off his 34-point performance against UCLA and averaging 22.2 ppg through the month of February, scored just seven first-half points. He revved it up to score 16 in the second half to finish with 23, along with five assists. He has scored double digits in nine straight games.
— Sophomore point guard Brandon Smith had a career-high 18 points, including 4 for 5 from 3-point range, and dished out six assists. His 3-pointer with about 4 minutes left gave Cal the lead for good.
— Freshman guard Allen Crabbe, who missed both his 3-point attempts against UCLA in his first game back from a concussion, made 4 of 8 from deep and scored 19 points, 13 of them in the second half.
Click here for updated Pac-10 standings.