LAS VEGAS -- With Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Jaylen Brown and senior point guard Tyrone Wallace a combined 2-of-15 shooting (1-for-6, 1-for-9, respectively) on the night, and No. 3-seed California going a woeful 16-of-28 at the free throw line, something had to give in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal against No. 6-seed Oregon State, especially with Beavers freshman Derrick Bruce scoring a career-high 24 points, and Gary Payton II piling on 20, with 16 rebounds.
As Cal saw a 12-point lead all but evaporate at halftime, with Oregon State down by just four, freshman Ivan Rabb -- who'd hit each of his three shots -- said, simply, "Get me the ball."
What head coach Cuonzo Martin has wanted all season from Rabb -- for him to demand the ball -- he finally did. The Bears listened to their talented freshman.
"I don't even think of him as a freshman anymore," said Jabari Bird. "As far as I'm concerned, he's an upperclassman."
Rabb went off for 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting, with 15 points for his 10th career double-double, while Bird went 7-of-11 for 20 points, going 5-of-7 from beyond the three-point arc, fueling a 76-68 win for the Golden Bears, who will go on to face No. 2-seed Utah on Friday at 8:45 p.m., on FOX Sports 1. The last time Cal made the semifinals was 2012. The Bears have never won the conference tournament.
"I was just trying to be aggressive, like I did in the first two games against Oregon State," Rabb said. "It's not about the shots; it's about being aggressive and assertive. I was looking for the ball. Guys found me. I was looking for Kam [Rooks] and I was looking for other guys, to get them touches, as well. We played a great game, altogether."
In the final five minutes, Rabb went 2-for-4 from the free throw line, tallied four rebounds (two offensive), a pair of lay-ups, a steal and a block.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1650829-inside-locker-room..."He came through for us," Brown said. "He rebounded, played like a man down low, scored the ball at will. If he would have hit his free throws, it would have been a perfect game. Ivan stepped up and played really well. That's what we expect. Ivan's been putting in a lot of work. This is the time when big-time players need to emerge. I'm really proud of Ivan. I'm expecting him to do the same thing tomorrow, and the rest of the days."
Bird hit three three-pointers in the second half that either tied the game or gave the Bears the lead.
"People sleep on him, and they've slept on him for the past three years, but he's a pro, in my opinion," said Brown, who himself will likely be a professional at this point next year. As for his struggles, Brown said that over the past three games, in which he's hit just six shots (6-for-25 for 23 points), he's been thinking far too much.
For the first seven minutes of the first half, everything seemed to be going swimmingly for Cal (23-9) against the Beavers (19-12). The Bears hit seven of their first 10 shots, tallied three steals, one block and two offensive rebounds.
After one possession, Oregon State went into a zone, but the Bears had Bird, who hit his first two three-pointers in the first four minutes of the game, scoring eight of Cal's first 10 points. So far, so good for a would-be No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
In fact, thanks to Bird's hot shooting, Cal -- playing very sharp, tight basketball, getting seven early points in transition, forcing turnovers, like a steal on the baseline that resulted in a Wallace lob to a backdoor cutting Rabb for the two-handed flush.
The Cal brain trust put Sam Singer on Gary Payton II's hip, and the Bears junior stifled the Beavers' senior, to the tune of a 1-for-4 half from the floor, four rebounds, one assist and three turnovers. The Bears themselves had just two turnovers in the first 6:27, and had a 17-5 lead. Then, things started falling apart. Turnovers -- exactly what plagued Cal on the road against Oregon State, with 16 -- began to mount, and with them, so did extra opportunities for the Beavers, which ripped off an 11-4 run. Cal committed just two turnovers on that 17-5 opening salvo, and then committed six in the final 13:33. Brown went 1-for-5 with three of those turnovers in the first half, as the Bears team that started the year 1-8 on the road returned.
"I've just got to stop thinking and play basketball," Brown said. "I'll give credit to Oregon State, but I'm being careless with the ball right now. I've got to be better. It's completely my fault. I can do better, and I will do better."
Freshman Derrick Bruce, the unheralded piece of the Beavers' 2015 recruiting class, went off, going 4-of-5 from the floor, and getting to the cup with ease, drawing contact from post defenders taken aback by his brash drives. He punished Cal, going 6-of-6 at the free throw line, tallying a career high 15 points in the first half alone, while the other nine Beavers totaled 15 points.
Bruce was on such a tear that, with 1:40 left in the half, he waved off the veteran Payton, drove the ball himself, drew the foul from Rabb and hit both free throws to get Oregon State to within three.
Late in the second half, Oregon State had reduced the once 12-point lead to one, taking advantage of a 1-for-9 stretch by the Bears that included three three-point misses by Jordan Mathews, and some ill-fated hero ball on the part of Wallace. While the Bears built up their initial 17-5 lead, Wallace was much more of a facilitator, with just one shot and two assists through the first 6:27. After that, he went 0-for-3, with several abortive drives and wild passes out of the low post that resulted in muddled three looks Mathews.
The second half didn't start much better. Brown recovered a loose ball with 18:31 to go, but then turned it over on a wild, sloppy one-handed pass to Bird, who had to foul to slow down the Beavers. The Bears turned the ball over three times in the first four minutes. Two of those belonged to Brown.
Cal tried Roger Moute a Bidias and Sam Singer on Bruce, to no avail. With 15:23 left, he hit a three in Moute a Bidias's face, and with the attention drawn away from Payton, he too added a bucket. Bruce had 21 points in his first 18 minutes on the floor.
Wallace missed another poor shot in the paint, and then Mathews clanked a three. Bruce once again drove and drew the foul. After Bruce missed his first two freebies of the night, Rabb came back with a two-handed dunk to get the lead back up to five. Rabb was the one Bear having an objectively good night, going 6-of-6 at that point for a team-high 13, to go along with nine rebounds with 12:39 to go. Rabb, however, a 69.1% shooter from the free throw line, went 3-of-10 on the night, missing three front ends of one-and-ones.
Bruce tied things up with a corner three with just over nine minutes to go, but Bird, who hadn't hit a three ball since 16:33 in the first, came back with one to give the Bears the lead again, 52-49. Bird then found Rabb on the left block, and Rabb hit a fadeaway jumper over Olaf Schaftenaar to extend the lead to five, but Schaftenaar came back with a big-man three ball of his own, over Rabb on the other end.
A drive and kick by Bruce to Payton in the left corner for a three gave Oregon State the lead with 6:46 left, but only for one possession, as Bird -- coming off a three miss -- nailed a three of his own to put the Bears back up, 57-55.
Another Bird three tied the game at 60 with 5:01 left, but he soon got his fourth foul, endangering what, at that point, was the only part of the Cal offense working -- or, at least the only part of the offense that Wallace was comfortable going to, tallying 10 assists, as Rabb and Bird finished.
Brown -- a 64.5% free throw shooter -- was fouled going for a triple, and hit all three, giving the Bears a 63-62 lead with 3:33 to go.
The other part of the offense that was working -- Rabb -- came up big in the final two minutes, coming up with a steal, and then a put-back on a Mathews miss, adding the and-one, to put the Bears up, 70-63, pounding his chest as the foul was called.
As the clock wound down under a minute, Payton came up with a big block on Rabb as Cal tried to dribble things out, but the ball went out of bounds. On the in-bound from Wallace, Mathews hit a corner three off the catch with five seconds left on the shot clock to put the Bears up by eight.
Again: Enter Rabb. The freshman out of Oakland, Calif., blocked Payton with 11 seconds left, essentially icing the game. Two possessions later, Rabb drew a foul, and hit both free throws, after going 1-of-8 to start.
"After I missed, what, 12?" Rabb laughed. "It was big. I was just making a basketball play, and it was a pretty nice block, but it was about getting a stop so we could win the game. I was just doing my job."
As for the free throws?
"Honestly, I don't know," Rabb said. "I definitely will be shooting a lot tomorrow. It never really got to me in my head, seeing them go in and out, and spinning around the basket. I never had any bad misses, but that's frustrating to me. I made the last one, that's what counts."