Behrens Cleared as Bears Host Oregon

BERKELEY -- Christian Behrens makes his return as Cal hosts Oregon in the first of two more home games left on the regular season schedule at Haas Pavilion.

BERKELEY -- Christian Behrens will be back on the basketball court on Wednesday, as California takes on Oregon at 8:05 p.m., on ESPNU, to start the final home weekend of conference play for the Bears.

Behrens has not played since a six-minute stint on the floor against UCLA on Feb. 7, missing three games after having a surgical procedure done on his knee to remove what doctors called a “loose body,” something that turned out to be a piece of bone.

“What happened was, I must have injured a bone a month prior to when I felt something happen, at UCLA, in the pregame,” Behrens said on Tuesday. “I felt something wasn’t right in there, and during the game, I could actually feel a piece of something moving around in my knee, so I thought I should probably get this checked out.

“The MRI showed that I had a loose body in my knee, so the doctor was able to go in there and scope it out really quickly, not very invasive at all. As soon as I got the stitches out, I was able to get started.”

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Head coach Cuonzo Martin underwent a similar surgery 21 years ago, and it took him three weeks to return, so the fact that Behrens missed about half that time was not surprising.

“I was on the floor after that, so I would imagine, 20 years later [it should be quicker], so I’m not surprised, not at all,” Martin said.

“Originally, before they went inside my knee, it was a three-to-four-week recovery,” Behrens said. “Then, he went in, and the piece was right there, so they didn’t have to go through too much of my knee to find the stuff. That part, right there, makes it so I’m able to come back, cleaner and quicker. It was based on how I felt. The doctor said that, as soon as I got my stitches out, he wanted me to push it, and as soon as it felt good, I felt like I was ready, I could play.”

Having an extra big man available should help Cal (16-11, 6-8 in Pac-12) immensely against the high-pressure, perimeter-oriented Ducks, particularly because Behrens isn’t a typical big man.

“I think what you have is another body. It’s tough, when you’re going into games, and you’re real thin, especially if you get into foul trouble, like [we did] at Utah,” Martin said. “Those guys had situations, and now it messes up your rotations, and you have to go small and you put guys in positions they’re not accustomed to playing.

“[He’s] a body that understands what we’re trying to do, a mobile body, helps us, especially in our ball-screen offense, when he screens and dives. He’s a strong rebounder. Especially against a team like Oregon, who plays small, where sometimes they have five perimeter guys on the floor that are mobile, athletic, dribble weave and attacking the rim, you need a guy that can try to contain on the perimeter, which is not easy for big guys that are not used to it.”

Though this is the first time this season that Oregon (20-8, 10-5) will square off with the Bears, Behrens has already played the Ducks, though only once.

“I’ve noticed that they run the same offensive sets,” said Behrens. “We’ve had a chance to check them out a little bit, go over personnel, go over stuff a little bit. They’ve got a lot of guys that really do the same stuff out there, playing four-out, one in. Four of their guys are virtually the same, where they can all handle the ball and they can all shoot the ball and they can all drive the ball. There’s that, and they have legit posts, as well.”

The Ducks have lost 12 straight games to Cal, but are the most prolific scoring offense in the Pac-12, averaging 76.4 points per game, though their up-tempo style tends to produce fairly high-scoring games, as they are also giving up 70.5 points per game, second-most in the league.

“They run, they score the ball. Fun to watch,” Martin said of Oregon. “You’ve got Joseph Young – one of the best scorers, not just in the Pac-12, but in the country, with his ability to go off the dribble, come off the ball screen, catch and shoot threes, score in transition. The thing about him, when you watch him, he scores the ball, but he doesn’t seem like he’s a selfish scorer. He passes the ball. He’s all over the place and he makes plays, and I enjoy watching him.”

Young leads the conference in scoring (19.8 ppg), is seventh in assists (3.71 apg), first in free-throw percentage (91.8%), first in three-pointers made (2.54 per game) and ninth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.55:1), but on Sunday, he was held to just 5-of-16 shooting by then-No. 9 Utah, but that didn’t seem to harm Oregon much, as the Ducks cruised to a 69-58 win over the Utes, giving the Oregon 20 wins for the fifth straight season.

“Watching the game, of course, they identified him on the floor -- he’s a talented player -- but that means that other guys are able to make plays. I think that’s what happened. Other guys stepped up and scored the ball and they did a great job of moving the ball, scoring in transition. They played well, but Utah’s a good defensive team. Of course, they go into that game, and this is a guy we’ve got to stop. Brandon Taylor probably doesn’t get any credit, but he’s one of the better defenders in our league.”

Young, though, isn’t the only threat, as Oregon proved against the Utah, led by freshman Dillon Brooks, who’s averaging 12.3 points per game, and former Cal commit Ahmaad Rorie, who’s averaging 5.0 points and 2.6 rebounds per game.

“Brooks is a good player. I’ve always felt that, when a guy’s a freshman, then they’re pretty much sophomores when January hits, especially if they’ve been in the rotation. They understand, they’ve been in big games, last-second situations, they’ve been a part of success or failure, so they’ve been through it.

“Brooks is a talented player, Ahmaad Rorie is a talented point guard. He’s started some – not sure if he’s starting as of right now, but he’s started for them and is a guy that can score the ball and attack the rim. Brooks is averaging about 12 points a game, and at 6-6, is a physical presence around the rim. When it’s all said and done, he’ll be one of the best in this league.”


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