1. Leaving points on the board. Over the past four games, the Bears (16-12, 6-9) have shot 57.97% from the free throw line, going 11-of-19 against Oregon on Wednesday. Before that stretch, Cal hit 65.4% of their shots from the charity stripe. The last three games have been particularly grim, with the Bears going 28 of 52 (53.8%).
“I just think it’s a matter of making them,” said Martin. “We spend a lot of time on them in practice. It’s a matter of having confidence, shooting the ball. We spend plenty of time on it, probably more than I would like to. It’s being aggressive in knocking them down, and having confidence.”
When Cal was within three points of the Ducks with 13:38 left in the game, the Bears missed three free throws. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t seem like a huge swing in an 80-69 game, but that’s exactly where this game was lost. Sam Singer drove to the rack and drew a foul on Dwayne Benjamin, and headed to the line. He missed both shots.
Cal got a turnover from former commit Ahmaad Rorie, leading to Tyrone Wallace curling at the top of the key and then driving, drawing a foul Jordan Bell, his fourth. Wallace went to the line for one-and-one, and missed the front end. That’s four points that the Bears left on the board.
Oregon was well on its way to a 9-0 run to go up 56-51. Though Wallace hit his next two free throws, keeping Cal within three, but then a sloppy pass in the lane by Wallace – mobbed by four Ducks – led to a turnover and a fast-break dunk by Joseph Young, and, down by five, Wallace was fouled again and again missed the front end of a one-and-one, leaving two more points on the board.
Cal had Oregon in the bonus within the first seven minutes of the second half, but only went 4-for-8 from the line the rest of the way, including three misses on the front ends of one-and-ones. That’s 10 points left on the board.
“In a game you lose, you can always look back, and that’s one of the things we can always look back on this year, you lose games by however-many, and we missed 10, 12 free throws,” said center David Kravish. “It’s not for shortage of working on them. We shoot them every day in numbers. It’s just something we’ve got to follow through and complete.”
While the Bears squandered opportunities at the line, Oregon saw a huge chunk of its production come from the line, going 17-of-20, led by a 9-of-11 night from Elgin Cook. This game came down to one crucial factor: The Ducks took advantage of opportunities, and Cal did not.
“I think the thing that broke down tonight, the long rebounds, they get their heads up, and you’ve got to get stops. One-on-one defense, that’s what it came down to, and what they did in the second half, especially with Cook,” Martin said. “He made a lot of one-on-one plays, and they’d feed off Cook. Joe Young made plays, but Cook was the guy that they went through in the second half. Cook doesn’t shoot a lot of threes, but he’s a face-up kind of guy.”
2. Speaking of taking advantage of opportunities … The Bears had a decided size advantage over Oregon, but was still out-rebounded, 39-28. With the Ducks up 24-20, Cal still held a 7-0 offensive rebounding advantage and a 5-0 edge in second-chance points, with Oregon tallying seven total rebounds with 7:50 left in the first half. From that point on, the Ducks out-rebounded the Bears 32-16 overall, and 11-1 on the offensive boards.
“It was a big thing,” said Kravish. “Obviously, you can’t give up offensive rebounds, especially when a team is shooting as well as they were shooting today. You have to give them credit there.”
Ball movement really wasn’t an issue, as Cal had 15 assists on 25 field goals, compared to Oregon’s seven helpers on 29 field goals, but that was mitigated by the fact that the Ducks had 15 second-chance points, compared with the Bears’ five.
After recording five rebounds in a very energetic first half, Jabari Bird recorded just one more board in the final 20 minutes, and not a single Cal player tallied double-digit rebounds on the night, with Wallace leading the pack with seven. In contrast, two Ducks pulled down 10 rebounds: Dillon Brooks -- who made up for a 1-for-6 shooting night – and Benjamin, who added his 10 rebounds to 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
“The ball doesn’t bounce my way sometimes, I guess, but I’ve got to make an effort,” Bird said. “If I have five rebounds in the first five minutes, I should get at least 10 rebounds. That’s on me. I’ve got to box out harder and make an effort to get more rebounds.”
3. A consistent defensive effort. Speaking of Benjamin, the 6-foot-7, 210-pound junior took advantage of the defensive havoc wrought by Young, who scored a game-high 25 points. Asked what the strategy was defending Young, Martin laughed, and said, “Defend him.”
“Really,” Martin said, “he’s a good basketball player. He’s a quick guard, he’s probably more of a combo guard than a true point. I think the biggest key is accepting the challenge to guard him, the same thing like we do with every guy. You’ve got to take pride in defending, you have to be a good one-on-one defender, keep him in front of you, have to guard him.”
With the Bears building their defense around trying to stop Young’s drives, Benjamin sat on the perimeter and went 3-for-5 from three-point land. He wasn’t restricted to beyond the arc, though, hitting one-handed floaters and scoring in traffic in the paint, hitting turn-around jumpers and taking advantage of those long rebounds.
“We had some defensive lapses where we left guys open that we shouldn’t have left open,” Kravish said. “To their credit, they knocked down the shots.”
While Cal certainly sported a more athletic lineup than normal – playing with four guards for much of the night, and, failing that, playing 6-foot-6 Dwight Tarwater as the four, keeping freshman seven-footer Kingsley Okoroh on the bench – closing out on Benjamin proved to be a tall task, particularly for Kravish and Tarwater, each of whom played much of the game with three fouls, with two of Tarwater’s coming within the first four minutes.
Tarwater’s foul trouble necessitated eight minutes off the bench for Brandon Chauca, who struggled defending Rorie and Young, who went 10-for-20 from the field, 2-for-4 from three-point range and 3-of-4 from the free throw line.
“What we teach in practice is, you’ve got to hold your box outs,” Martin said. “They have so many perimeter guys. They have four guys on the perimeter, and they have a guy posting, if he’s around the rim. Hold your box out, because most things go long, and you’ve got to be able to grab that ball, as opposed to running, and all of the sudden, it tips, and they get three-point shots. I thought we really got exposed in the second half, as those guys made those three-point shots off those long tips. We just did a poor job of holding those long box outs, when they tipped the ball out.”
Cook and Young in particular took advantage of those long rebounds, and went 14-for-27 from the field. In all, three Ducks scored in double figures, including Benjamin.
“In Benjamin’s case, three or four of his threes were because we don’t get long rebounds,” Martin said. “I think the shot clock went down on one, and he hit a three with maybe a second left on the clock. That might have been his first one. Then, he got his head up from there. I thought Cook did a good job in the post of really taking advantage of mismatch situations and getting to the free throw line, and Joe Young was just sound from start to finish.”
4. Jabari Bird’s coming into his own, but he, too, needs to find consistency. With Wallace continuing to struggle shooting – even when he doesn’t have three and four opponents crashing the lane when he drives – Bird can’t disappear in the second half as he did on Wednesday. Despite his career-high 22 points, Bird scored just six in the second half.
“Four guys collapsing on him, if that’s the case, then Tyrone finds the guy that’s open,” Martin said. “Tyrone finds the guy that’s open. If there are four guys on him, then somebody’s open. He made good decisions, and I thought he was sound with his decisions, and if they missed shots, you miss them.”
Wallace is 6-for-his-last-24 from the field, and 22-for-52 (42.3%) over the last four games, and without Bird, the Bears are woefully short on other scoring threats, though Jordan Mathews -- who’d struggled with a rolled ankle of late – went 4-of-8 from the field and 2-of-5 from three for 11 points, adding four assists.
Bird was a one-man force in the first half, going 7-of-13 from the field and 2-of-4 from three-point range, and looked to be a viable scoring option if Wallace was contained.
“I was being aggressive,” said Bird, who had two rebounds in the first two minutes of play. “I was making plays. In the second half, I just didn’t make any plays.”
After the break, Bird went just 2-for-7 from the floor, and 2-for-5 from three-point range.
At the under-12 time out in the first half, Bird had nine points on 5-of-8 shooting, while the rest of the Bears were 2-for-11. Bird went just 5-for-12 the rest of the way. Bird has now scored 51 points in his last three games, shooting 23-for-46 from the field, but he needs to be more consistent, and take shots like he took in the first half, in the second half.
“I’m just healthy, and my body feels good,” Bird said of his recent scoring surge. “I’m just being aggressive out there and make plays for myself and my teammates, and I’ve been having some success with it.”
There were, however, at least two instances in the second half where Bird passed up open three looks to jab-step and shoot a contested two.
“I didn’t have an opportunity to get them off, so I didn’t shoot them, or they ran me from the line a few times, but I guess the defense adjusted to it,” Bird said. “They made a conscious effort to stop it.”
Bird, Mathews and Singer hit a trio of three-pointers as the half dawned, but with 9:35 left, Bird rolled right to create a wide-open three, but opted to try a two-point pull-up jumper, which he missed. Bird missed a three with 7:24 left in the game, leading to a Benjamin three to put the Ducks up by 10. In the final 7:24, Bird went 0-for-4 with a turnover. If he’s to fulfill his five-star promise, he can’t disappear in crunch time.
“I thought he was very aggressive,” Martin said. “I thought in a couple situations, more so in the second half than the first, one time he should have shot a three, another time he should have drove the ball, and that’s just the feel and the pace for him.”