TIPOFF: 7 p.m. Thursday at Haas Pavilion, Berkeley. TV/Radio: ESPNU/910-AM.
Mike Montgomery didn’t exactly say this week that his team — tied for seventh place and four games out of first place — no longer is playing for the Pac-12 regular-season championship. But he sort of accepted that likely reality.
Asked about a remark by senior Brandon Smith that the Bears need to approach each game with a sense of desperation, Montgomery declined to go with the flow.
“I don’t know why there’s a sense of desperation. We are who we are,” he said at his Tuesday press conference. “We’ve got to finish in the top four. I guess if you’re thinking we’re going to win (the title), maybe there’s desperation.”
Finishing in the top four, of course, lands a team a bye into the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. Teams that finish fifth or below must play a first-round game, meaning they would need to win four straight to capture the event and the league’s automatic NCAA tournament bid.
“We’ve got to get better,” Montgomery said. “Hopefully that sense of urgency’s there. When you’ve got a chance to win a game, you’ve got to win it.”
Thursday night provides the Bears one of those chances.
Oregon State, after a promising 10-3 run through its nonconference schedule, is 1-6 and alone in 11th place.
The Beavers have played a tough schedule (with games against the top five teams in the league standings) and they have played close games (twice losing by three points or fewer). They played three games without suspended forward Eric Moreland, who averages a double-double.
They also have lost at USC and at home against Washington State.
If the Bears have any designs on making something of the remainder of their season, they need to start with a win over the Beavers.
“Guys on our team are tired of losing. I know I’m tired of losing,” Smith said. “I’m fed up. Our backs are kind of against the wall. We need to start winning some games and winning at home.
“Our next game is very important. That’s a must-win for us against Oregon State.”
Certainly the Bears ought to take OSU — and everyone else — seriously. The Beavers were good enough to beat Washington, and they lost by just six points at Kansas, where most visitors are devoured.
Asked if OSU is better than its record, Smith suggested, “I think that’s the case with most of the Pac-12. Most of the teams are better than they appear. They’re going to be a solid challenge. We’ve got to come out ready and prepared.”
Pac-12 scoring leader Allen Crabbe agreed the Bears are anxious to get on a roll.
“It’s just frustrating: winning and losing, winning and losing,” he said after the loss at Colorado on Sunday. “Get on a winning streak. It’s frustrating playing like this. We’ve got more basketball left.
“Hopefully, we can make the (NCAA) tournament. It’s not like we can’t beat these teams. We have the people to beat these teams, we’re just not coming up with the wins.”
ABOUT THE BEAVERS: Don’t think OSU doesn’t have Montgomery’s attention. ”They’re a good team,” he said. Certainly, they have some good parts, starting with size in the front court and two scorers in Roberto Nelson and Ahmad Starks at the guard spots. “They can cause problems with shot-blocking, they can cause problems on the offensive glass, they can cause problems with their length,” Montgomery said. “They’re a dangerous team.” … Moreland, who missed the Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA games while on team suspension, averages 10.2 points and 10.6 rebounds off the bench, although he plays starter minutes (29.8 per game). At 6-10 with a lively body, Moreland already is No. 2 all-time at OSU with 115 career blocked shots. … Nelson, who has had an up and down career, is averaging 17.4 ppg over the past five. … Freshman wing Jarmal Reid, who has defended Washington State PF Brock Motum and Arizona State PG Jahii Carson, may draw the assignment of chasing Cal’s top scorer, Allen Crabbe. … 6-9 freshman Olaf Schaftenaar, whose older brother Roeland played for the Beavers, has attempted 69 3-point shots and just 14 from inside the arc. Beavers coach Craig Robinson believes his team still can make a late-season push. “I think we’re capable. It gets harder and harder the later you start it,” Robinson said. “You put some of this adversity behind us and start playing well, anything ‘s possible.”
THE SERIES: Cal leads 78-60. The teams split games a year ago, but Cal has won three of the past four meetings.
ETC: At Colorado on Sunday, Justin Cobbs (22) and Allen Crabbe (21) both topped 20 points in the same game for the first time since Nov. 25. Cobbs scored 20 or more four times in the Bears first six games, but hadn’t so again until the Colorado game. That was the first time in four games that the Bears’ two leading scorers both had 20 and the team lost. … Crabbe now ranks No. 17 on Cal’s career list with 1,310 points. Next up at 1,315 points is Theo Robertson, serving this season as a graduate manager. … OSU freshman Langston Morris-Walker, formerly of Berkeley HS, is coming off a career-best nine points against Washington State, hitting 3 of 4 shots from the 3-point line. He was 1 for 15 from beyond arc prior to the game.
WHAT’S NEXT: Cal plays No. 10 Oregon on Saturday at Haas Pavilion. Tipoff is 1:30 p.m.
Cal (11-8, 3-4 Pac-12)
|SG Allen Crabbe||6-6||Jr.||20.0||5.5|
|PF Richard Solomon||6-10||Jr.||7.9||6.3|
|PF David Kravish||6-9||So.||7.7||7.1|
|PG Justin Cobbs||6-2||Jr.||14.7||4.2*|
|SG Tyrone Wallace||6-3||Fr.||6.8||4.9|
|G Brandon Smith||5-11||Sr.||3.3||2.4*|
|C Robert Thurman||6-10||Sr.||5.2||3.8|
|F Bak Bak||6-9||Sr.||1.6||1.3|
Oregon State (11-9, 1-6 Pac-12)
|PF Devon Collier||6-8||Jr.||14.5||6.6|
|C Joe Burton||6-7||Sr.||10.8||6.0|
|SF Jarmal Reid||6-7||Fr.||2.2||2.1|
|SG Roberto Nelson||6-3||Jr.||16.0||3.0|
|PG Ahmad Starks||5-9||Jr.||12.1||2.4*|
|F Eric Moreland||6-10||So.||10.2||10.6|
|F Olaf Schaftenaar||6-9||Fr.||4.2||1.1|
|G Langston Morris-Walker||6-5||Fr.||1.8||0.9|