Down 14 points two minutes into the second half, Cal battled back within two before falling 77-71 to Oregon State at Gill Coliseum on Saturday night. The Bears (12-5, 2-2) were swept in the state of Oregon for the first time since 2005.
Some quick impressions:
WHY CAL LOST: The Bears were sporadic offensively, but actually made nine straight shots late in the game. The problem was their defense, which has been their strength for more than a month. The Beavers put up more points than any Cal opponent since Richmond scored 94 against the Bears in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving weekend. The Bears blocked six shots, but could not close out defensive possessions, allowing 15 offensive rebounds.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: With his Hall of Fame father watching courtside, Oregon State senior guard Gary Payton II made all the big plays, including the biggest – a spinning drive and free throw with 30 seconds left that gave the Beavers some breathing room at 76-71. Payton finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, four steals and just one turnover in 38 impressive minutes.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Cal was down just 30-25 with barely 3 minutes left in the first half and the Beavers faced an inbounds play under their own basket with 1 second left on the shot clock. A wasted possession, right? No, Payton deftly inbounded to freshman Stephen Thompson Jr., who converted a reverse layup before the shot clock expired, and OSU outscored Cal 8-2 to close the half with a 38-27 lead.
TURNING POINT: The Bears pulled within 48-46 after consecutive 3-point baskets by Sam Singer and Jordan Mathews. But Cal’s next three possessions generated a missed one-and-one free throw by Jabari Bird, a Jordan turnover that led to a fastbreak dunk, and a Tyrone Wallace shot that was blocked. OSU went 6-0 to push its margin back to eight points with 10½ minutes left and the Bears were swimming upstream the rest of the night.
WHAT WE LEARNED: Actually, it’s what the Bears learned – the road is not easy in conference play. Cuonzo Martin and his players talked before the trip that they just needed to play their game and geography would have little to do with the outcome. But they got swept and now have lost their past six Pac-12 road games.
TURNING IT OVER: Cal entered the week among the Pac-12’s best at taking care of the ball. Then they coughed up 18 turnovers in a three-point loss at Oregon and 16 more in a six-point defeat at OSU. Combined with 15 OSU offensive rebounds, the turnovers helped the Beavers generate 17 more shots. So even though the Bears converted 52 percent to 43 percent for OSU, the home team actually made three more field goals.
BROKEN BENCH: Cal’s reserves were outscored 42-8 by their Oregon State counterparts, including 20-1 in first half. Reserve point guard Sam Singer ran the offense well, contributing five points, four assists and just one turnover in 27 minutes. The Bears often seem to have a better flow with the ball in his hands. But Cal badly needs a lift from junior guard Jabari Bird, who shot 1 for 7 and scored just three points. In four Pac-12 games, the former starter is 4 for 21from the field and has totaled 13 points.
MIXED BROWN BAG: Three nights after he scored 20 points at Oregon, freshman Jaylen Brown matched it with 20 more and seven rebounds. He had Pac-12 Networks analyst Bill Walton frothing at the mouth, although that doesn’t put him in select company. But Brown also shot just 2 for 8 at the free throw line and turned the ball over four times.
BIG TURNS SMALL: Martin swapped 7-footers in his starting lineup, going with Kingsley Okoroh over Kam Rooks at center. Before long, however, Martin opted for a smaller lineup, keeping both big guys on the bench. Neither was effective. The two combined for zero points and one rebound in 12 minutes. Martin wants to play big, but on this night it was clear from the start that a lineup with his best five players did not include either of his sophomore 7-footers.