A win over Oregon State on Saturday wouldn't help California much, in the grand scheme of things. The Bears were 18-5 against the Beavers in their last 23 games, and Oregon State was 0-6 in Pac-12 play. A loss, however, to the Beavers -- with their 292 RPI -- combined with the fact that Cal was just 1-5 against the RPI top 50, would be disastrous for the Bears' postseason aspirations.
So, against the hapless Beavers, what led the Bears to a too-close 69-58 win? Being 157th in the nation in adjusted offense, Cal (14-6, 5-3 in Pac-12) relied on its defense.
After eking their way to a 34-29 lead at the half, shooting just 2-of-8 from three while allowing the Beavers (4-16, 0-7) to shoot 50% from the field, the Bears held Oregon State to just 8-of-26 (30.6%) from the field in the second (bolstered by a 4-of-7 stretch over the final 4:32), and held the Beavers scoreless for 3:28 in the second half. That scoreless stretch was in the middle of a 4:35 stretch where Oregon State did not hit a single field goal. JaQuori McLaughlin got Oregon State to within four, down 38-34, on a lay up and a free throw, but then Cal took over.
Bird's biggest shot came at the end of that run, as he stepped into a triple off the catch from Ivan Rabb to give Cal a 48-36 lead.
Mullins and Bird went a combined 5-for-13 from three-point land as the only true threats from long distance for Cal. Other Bears took just two shots from beyond the arc -- a miss from Charlie Moore and an ill-advised early-clock shot by Roger Moute a Bidias, who played two minutes, and has not hit a shot from the field since Dec. 21 against Virginia.
Instead, as in the Washington State game, head coach Cuonzo Martin went heavily Rabb. This time, though, rather than force-feeding Rabb after opening the middle with perimeter shooting, Martin made sure to get Rabb moving, and force a young and undisciplined Beavers squad to switch defenders frequently, until he got the size match-up.
Rabb got both Ronnie Stacy and Gligorije Rakocevic in a bit of foul trouble, and opened up some room down low to wok, going 5-of-10 from the field. Even more importantly for the otherwise-sluggish Cal offense (apart from Rabb and Mullins, who went 5-of-8, the rest of the team shot 40.6%), Rabb went 8-of-9 at the free throw line. Cal, as a team, went 18-of-23 at the charity stripe, making more free throws than the Beavers attempted (going 11-of-16).
Cal came into the game shooting 64% from the line on the season, but finished hitting 75.9% from the line.
Rabb scored a team-high 18 points, as four Bears scored in double figures, including Mullins, who had 12, tying Rabb for a team-high with eight rebounds.
Bird finished with 12, on 4-of-12 shooting, while freshman Charlie Moore had 15 on 4-of-7 shooting, and tamped down on his turnovers. After averaging 3.3 turnovers per game, Moore had just one against Oregon State, while leading the team with four assists.
With Tres Tinkle (20.2 ppg) still injured (for 14 games thus far), the Beavers had to rely heavily on Drew Eubanks, who scored a game-high 22 while feeling his way around the athletic Rabb and the 7-foot Kameron Rooks down low. Eubanks played inside-out, going 9-of-15 from the floor, with only six of his points coming in the deep post, and the rest on jumpers (12) and free throws.
"I just think we have more bodies with more experience," said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin. "Not that they didn't play hard — they have a lot of talent, they have young talent. Of course they're missing key players — probably one of the best players in our league in Tres — but we knew they'd make plays. We knew Stevie (Thompson) as well as Drew (Eubanks) were good enough to carry those guys. We just had to utilize our experience, our older guys and also our bodies, try to run in transition and ultimately get to Ivan Rabb to make plays."
With the win, Cal earns the split in Oregon, after a 17-point loss to the No. 11 Ducks on Thursday. The Bears return home in eight days to take on Stanford at 5:30 p.m., at Haas Pavilion. Cal will then take on Utah on Feb. 2, the day after football's National Signing Day.