Cal hosts No. 11 Oregon as Bears try to stay perfect at Haas Pavilion

Oregon brings an unconventional defense and a very diversified offense in to Berkeley for an early-evening tilt against Cal, which hasn't lost a game yet in Haas Pavilion this season.

Cal (15-8, 5-5 in Pac-12) vs. Oregon (20-4, 9-2)

When: 6:00 p.m. Pacific, Thurs., Feb. 11
Where: Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Pasch, Bill Walton)
Radio: KGO 810 AM - Todd McKim, Jay John
Radio 2: Westwood One KSFO 560 AM (Kevin Kugler, Mike Montgomery)
Sirius/XM: 81/81
Stat to Watch: Jordan Mathews was 0-for-8 from the floor and 0-for-4 from three-point range against Oregon in the Bears' last meeting with the Ducks. Oregon is sixth in the Pac-12 in three-point defense (allowing a 34.4% mark). Since Mathews went 0-for from long distance, he's hit 23-of-44 (52.3%) from beyond the arc.
Watch Out For: Oregon career blocks leader Jordan Bell. He's coming off injury, and has only played in 16 games, but he's got 120 rejections under his belt, and had three on Feb. 7 against Utah. The sophomore out of Long Beach (Calif.) Poly tallied those 120 blocks in just 50 games.

Let's Get Weird

The incomparable and eminently-quotable Bill Walton, before he signed off on his last Berkeley broadcast, exhorted the Bears faithful to "keep Berkeley weird," for Thursday's 6 p.m. clash with No. 11/12 Oregon, a game which he will also be calling (so, set your DVRs). Well, the Ducks -- winners of nine of their last 10 -- are certainly going to do their part.

“We had six assists, and I think we had 18 turnovers [last time against Oregon]," said Cal junior point guard Sam Singer. "They kind of play a weird zone, that we couldn’t really figure out. But, that’s still not excuse for not moving the ball. Also, we didn’t hit a lot of shots. We were 0-of-12 from the three-point line, so I think that contributed to it a little bit. We’ve really improved since then, moving the ball, sharing the ball, so I think it’ll be a little different, this time around.”

In the lead-up to the match-up at Haas Pavilion, where Cal is 14-0 on the season, the Bears have been spending more time in practice on the Ducks' "weird" zone -- more time than they normally spend on attacking zones, which have troubled Cal in the past.

“We’ve been practicing against it. It’s a zone, but they kind of have man principles, so it’s a little confusing, but we’ve been really practicing hard against it, so we’ll be ready," Singer said.

Oregon is second in the Pac-12 in scoring margin (+10.7), second to the Bears in scoring defense (67.4 ppg allowed) and, though the Ducks are a pedestrian seventh in assists per game (14.0, to Cal's 12.9, in 11th), they lead the conference in turnover margin, gaining an average of 14.8 turnovers per game (+2.88). The Bears are last in the league, on that front, giving up an average of 3.09 turnovers per game more than they gain."We can’t turn the ball over," said head coach Cuonzo Martin, who saw his team give up 16 turnovers last week against Stanford. "I think that’s what’s hurt our team. Defensively, you get stops, like against Colorado, you hold a team to 2-for-20, but you turn the ball over, you foul, they make free throws, that’s the next phase for us, to be sound and be very efficient on both ends of the floor."

Oregon -- who sits atop the conference standings afte being picked to finish fourth in the preseason media poll -- is weird for other reasons than just its defense. The Ducks' top shot blocker -- 6-foot-10, 190-pound senior Christopher Boucher -- wasn't even playing in Division I last year. Now leading NCAA Division I in blocks (3.38 per game), Boucher was at Northwest College in Wyoming, where he was named the 2014-15 Spalding NJCAA Division I Player of the Year, averaging 22.5 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, also picking up a first-team JuCo All-American nod. This will be his only year in Division I, but he provides a unique match-up challenge, averaging 12.7 points and 7.8 rebounds, including 2.6 offensive rebounds per game (10th in the conference), while hitting 54.9% of his shots and 34.7% of his three-point attempts (26-of-75).

"I don’t know if it’s necessarily a match up, because he can block shots, but what happens, offensively, he doesn't play around the rim," said Martin. "They have him on the perimeter, in the corner, because he can catch and shoot and make threes. If you're a traditional big guy, that’s not something you’re accustomed to, guarding a guy on the perimeter and the corner. They’re used to being around the rim. That's where Boucher has an advantage, if he's making three-point shots. Now, if he’s not making shots, that’s probably a little bit different, but it's hard to say they match up against each other, because, in most cases, they play a zone, and offensively, he's more on the perimeter than he is around the rim."

The Ducks also expected to have Dylan Ennis -- a graduate transfer from Villanova -- as their starting point guard this year. He missed 12 games with a foot injury, suffered in preseason practice. After playing in two games, scoring two points, with two assists, in 22 minutes, he reaggravated that foot injury in early January. In his stead, though, Oregon has found quite a floor general in sophomore Casey Benson. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder is first in the Pac-12 in assist-to-turnover ratio (5.1), and has just 15 tunovers in 679 minutes on the floor. His 76 assists (3.2 per game) belie his efficiency in running the offense.

“He obviously really takes care of the ball, and he’s always under control, so he’s not trying to do too much," Singer said. "He kind of stays within himself, and he has a lot of weapons around him, so he’s really good at getting them the all, and facilitating their offense. I think the turnovers, that’s just him really being sound and kind of just taking what the defense gives him, and nothing more.”

The emergence of Tyler Dorsey has also been a pleasant surprise for Dana Altman, who has seen his freshman swing man average 13.0 points and hit 42.6% of his three-point attempts (eighth in the Pac-12).

“It has been a really balanced team for us, this year. We’ve had a number of players step up on different nights, and play pretty well," Altman said. "Elgin Cook has had a number of big nights. Chris Boucher, Dwayne Benjamin off the bench, and Tyler Dorsey, I do like our balance. That’s been something that’s allowed us to stay in some games, on nights where maybe one or two of our players haven’t played really well, offensively.

“I am a little surprised that we’ve been able to maintain. We’ve had a couple good weeks here, but, obviously, any bad weekend can change that. Hopefully, we’ll continue to play well, and play as a team, and hopefully, the next three, four weeks, we can continue to play well.”

Last time out, Singer played sparingly, with Tyrone Wallace still healthy, and went 3-of-4 from the floor for seven points in 18 minutes. There's one number that irks him, though: Cal had just six assists on 26 field goals. Add to that the fact that the Bears went 0-for-12 from beyond the three-point arc, and 13-of-23 at the free throw line, and it's a marvel that Cal lost by just three.

"You have to make adjustments, but I think the thing with them, they score the ball, they’ll attack you off the dribble, they’ll make plays, they’ll take advantage of mismatches," said Martin. "In some ways, Dillon Brooks and Cook, both of those guys, 6-5, 6-7, they can do things that twos, threes and fours can do. In some cases, they can guard fives. So now, if that happens, if you’re not gaining an advantage with your five man offensively, it can be a problem, and I think that’s where they get a lot of teams. You have to impose your will, and have an advantage with your traditional bigs, if they’re in the game.” That's what Cal will try to do with emergent seven-footer Kameron Rooks. The redshirt sophomore, Martin said, has practiced "like a guard," going eight times a week for a workout, instead of the required four, during the offseason. He's dropped 30 pounds, and become much more confident in himself -- confident enough to make jokes at his NBA-coach father's expense. 

Rooks talks to his father -- former Arizona standout Sean Rooks -- after every single game, and the younger Rooks sometimes provides prodding, facetious encouragement to his dad, an assistant coach for the NBA cellar-dwelling Philadelphia 76ers.

“I try to. I try to. ‘You’re going to get the next one, Dad!’" he joked.

Kidding aside, Rooks has become a force for Cal in recent weeks, pulling down 38 rebounds over the past four games, and setting a career high with 11 points against Stanford last week. He's had his bumps -- like facing off with Utah's Jakob Poeltl in Salt Lake City -- but he's become a reliable force down low, who's just starting to realize his shooting touch.

"You have to give him a chance, because he works hard," said Martin. "When guys work hard, as a coach, you want to see them do well, and his mistakes are good mistakes. Whatever it is, you know where his heart is, and I think that’s the biggest key with Kam, he puts the time into it, and he has to impose his will on the floor. He has a presence. Once Kam truly realizes how good he can become, then he'll be a special talent." Rooks said he anticipates being on Boucher for the night, but that job could easily go to freshman Ivan Rabb, whose length and athleticism are perhaps more suited to challenging Boucher on the perimeter.

Speaking of Rabb, points in the paint were what kept the Bears in the game last time out against the Ducks, as Cal scored 46 down low -- including 17 from the freshman out of Bishop O'Dowd -- compared with Oregon's 32, even in a game where Rooks, Rabb and Kingsley Okoroh had a combined 10 fouls between them. That's been a problem for the Bears, with the trio averaging 10.22 fouls per game in Pac-12 play, until last week's game against the Cardinal. Combined, Rooks, Okoroh and Rabb had just five fouls -- the fewest combined infrations by the Cal bigs since the start of conference play.

"When we were fouling, we were fouling. You could see it in film," Rooks said. "Me and coach went over this many times. We just try our best to change it, and I think we’ve gotten a lot, lot better than before, trying not to foul out. I know I’m a hack-a-Shaq, so I’ve been fouling all the time, but I try my best not to.”

Oregon isn't a particularly adept free-throw shooting team (sixth in the Pac-12 with a 70.6% mark, going 13-of-26 in the teams' last meeting), but the Ducks are better than the Bears, who bring up the rear with a 66.7% pace at the charity stripe.

Brooks, along with being Oregon's leading scorer (16.9 ppg), assist man (77 in 24 games) and second-leading rebounder (6.0 rpg), also leads the Ducks at the free throw line, with a 79.5% mark. The 6-foot-7, 225-pound sophomore has been remarkably versatile for Altman this season, ranking third in the Pac-12 in scoring, 16th in rebounding, seventh in free throw percentage, 15th in steals (1.2 per game), 15th in assist-to-turnover ratoio (1.4) and 12th in offensive rebounds (2.3 orpg).

Brooks is one of four Oregon players averaging in double figures, and is coming off a 30-point, nine-assist night against the Utes.

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