Basketball: Oregon game preview

TIPOFF: 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Haas Pavilion, Berkeley. TV/Radio: FSN/910-AM.

Biggest game of the season for Cal so far.

That’s right: This is a moment the Golden Bears must seize if they expect to create any real momentum toward making something out of their season.

So far, the year has been a disappointment. Picked to finish third in the Pac-12, the Bears climbed into a four-way tie for fifth (and sixth and seventh and eighth) place only after escaping with a three-point win over an Oregon State team that now is tied for last.

It was a great comeback win for the Bears, an emotional victory.

But it won’t mean a thing unless Cal can assemble back-to-back wins for the first time since before Christmas.

The pattern of win one, lose one won’t work. It will lead to nothing better than an NIT appearance. If that.

The Bears have less depth than they hoped and, perhaps, less talent than we believed.

Beyond that, it seems they may have less toughness, less determination, less fire than they need.

Coach Mike Montgomery fanned their competitive flames during a timeout Thursday night against Oregon State. Trailing by 11 with less than 16 minutes left, the Bears were staring at their fifth home loss of the season.

He challenged them and the players responded with aggression and execution that got them a win they had to have.

Afterward, Montgomery said he’s expects players to be self-starters, the inference being his squad does not have that characteristic. That seems a season-long issue.

Skilled players? Yes.

Selfless players? Yes.

But these guys miss a teammate such as Jorge Gutierrez who would get in their faces . . . and make sure that message didn’t have to come from the coach.

On Saturday afternoon we’ll find out if Monty’s message got through and stuck. Oregon, obviously, is a very good team, and the Ducks ought to be motivated after a 76-52 loss at Stanford.

Still, the timing is good for Cal.

They’re at home, expecting a season-best crowd of more than 10,000 fans. They’re facing an Oregon team that may have at least a little doubt in its mind after having its nine-game win streak snapped. A team that flew a charter to the Bay Area on Tuesday, home Wednesday and back on Friday.

A win here pushes the Bears to five games over .500 overall, and 5-4 in Pac-12 play at the turn of the conference schedule — just two games out of first place in the loss column.

It only gets tougher for Cal going forward: at Arizona State, at Arizona and home vs. UCLA in its next three games. The Bears need this one.

ABOUT THE DUCKS: Oregon features balanced scoring and a good mix of experience and youth. The Ducks are at or near the top in the conference in scoring, shooting and rebound margin. A lot of the offense runs through senior F E.J. Singler and Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi has averaged nearly a double-double through his career. Oregon has played the past two games without starting freshman PG Dominic Artis, the former Salesian HS star, who will miss his third straight game with a foot injury. Junior Johnathan Loyd and freshman Willie Moore have shared the position since, and have totaled 14 of Oregon’s 43 turnovers over the past two games. The Ducks are averaging 15.9 turnovers in conference play — most of any team in the Pac-12.

THE SERIES: Cal leads 80-55. The Bears have won nine straight in the series, undefeated against the Ducks since Mike Montgomery became coach in 2008-09. Cal won by scores of 77-60 and 86-83 last season. Oregon has won just once in Berkeley over the past 12 seasons.

ETC: The combined 32 points scored Thursday against OSU by David Kravish, Richard Solomon and Robert Thurman is the most production the Bears have gotten from their three primary big men in any game this season. … Junior G Jeff Powers (knee) will not play Saturday. … Allen Crabbe scored 15 points against OSU, moving past Theo Robertson into the No. 16 spot on Cal’s career list with 1,325 points. He needs 19 move to move ahead of Jackie Ridgle into the No. 15 position. …

Cal has faced two nationally-ranked teams this season, dropping a 76-75 decision to No. 18  UNLV on Dec. 9 and a 76-64 decision to No. 13 Creighton on Dec. 15. The last top-10 opponent to come to Haas Pavilion was No. 3 Kansas, which beat Cal 78-63 on Dec. 22, 2010.  Cal most recently defeated a top-10 team on Jan. 31, 2008 with a 69-64 victory at No. 9 Washington State. The Bears most recent win over a top-10 team at home was a 71-69 victory over No. 10 Washington on Jan. 26, 2006.

WHAT’S NEXT: Cal plays Arizona State on Thursday at Tempe, Ariz. Tipoff is 6:30 p.m. PT.

Cal (12-8, 4-4 Pac-12)

Starters Ht Yr Pts Rebs
SG Allen Crabbe 6-6 Jr. 19.8 5.6
PF Richard Solomon 6-10 Jr. 8.2 6.4
PF David Kravish 6-9 So. 8.0 7.0
PG Justin Cobbs 6-2 Jr. 14.7 4.3*
SG Tyrone Wallace 6-3 Fr. 6.6 4.7
Key reserves
G Brandon Smith 5-11 Sr. 3.5 2.4*
C Robert Thurman 6-10 Sr. 5.3 4.0
F Bak Bak 6-9 Sr. 1.7 1.2

Oregon (18-3, 7-1 Pac-12)

Starters Ht Yr Pts Rebs
F E.J. Singler 6-6 Sr. 11.0 4.9
F Carlos Emory 6-5 Sr. 10.3 4.1
C Tony Woods 6-11 Sr. 10.6 3.5
SG Damyean Dotson 6-5 Fr. 11.5 4.0
PG Johnathan Loyd 5-8 Jr. 3.0 2.2*
Key reserves
F Arsalan Kazemi 6-7 Sr. 8.7 9.5
G Willie Moore 6-3 Fr. 2.8 0.8
C Waverly Austin 6-11 Jr. 4.4 3.2


Jeff Faraudo

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