RECAP: Oregon overcomes dismal first half to beat Cal at the buzzer

BERKELEY -- Cal had two baskets in the final eight minutes, and coughs up a 16-point lead to No. 6 Oregon at home, losing 68-65.

BERKELEY -- It couldn't last. It shouldn't have lasted. There was no way that No. 6 Oregon, one of the highest-tempo, highest-pressure teams in the nation, let alone the Pac-12, could keep hitting a lid on the top of the basket against California.

For nearly 38 minutes, the Bears -- coming off of two straight losses -- held serve at home in front of a Gold Out crowd that's pushed them to two wins over ranked teams in the past four years on the special-event evenings. Cal led Oregon by as many as 16, but with 2:05 left in regulation, the Ducks took the lead.

With 44 seconds left, and Oregon up 64-63, Cal had the ball with the chance to put the game away. Instead, the Bears dribbled and passed, drove and kicked, with passes not in the shooting pocket. Stephen Domingo passed up two shots. Jabari Bird hesitated at the top of the arc, and with the shot clock winding down to under three, leaned in for an ugly three-point attempt. It missed.

"We didn't want to use a time out," said head coach Cuonzo Martin. "We wanted to try to go with Ivan. Guys understood what we were trying to do. Wanted to try to get Ivan, Charlie come off a ball screen, and if he can't get Ivan, if he can't score it, hit Ivan. You have a guy raising, you play from there, and you go back inside to Ivan. The defender did a good job, used their length. The ball gets in different guys' hands, you've got to have the confidence to step up and attack the rim and make plays."

A lucky-bounce tip-in by Ivan Rabb tied things up at 65-65 with 9.7 seconds to go, but as Cal sat back, not wanting to foul in the final seconds, Dylan Ennis dribbled the ball up, found a slashing Dillon Brooks at the top of the arc, and a three-pointer with 0.2 seconds left sealed the deal, a 68-65 Oregon win.

"This would have been a signature win for us," said Jabari Bird, who scored a team-high 20 points. shot 9-of-18 on the night for a game-high 22 points. Ennis finished with 13 on 6-of-8 shooting, going 7-of-11 after the break as Oregon outscored the Bears 52-35 in the second half.

The Ducks hit seven of their last eight shots, while the Bears went 2-for-7 in the final 7:06. After shooting 7-of-24 in the first half, Oregon shot 60% (18-of-30) after the break. After starting 1-of-11 from three, the Ducks hit six of their final 10 from beyond the arc.

"They made plays down the stretch, and we didn't," Bird said.

Cal had held Oregon to its lowest point total in a single half this season -- 16 in the first half. It was the lowest total that the Bears had allowed in a single half this season (18 against Arizona State was the previous low), and before a 5-for-9 shooting spree to end the half, Oregon was shooting a season-low 16.7% from the field.

The Ducks had shot 51.7% from the field over their last five games. Their 7-for-24 half was not only out of character, it was a statistical anomaly. Oregon had shot 44% from three-point range in Pac-12 play, and 47% over the last five games, but was 0-for-7 in the first half. Guard Sam Singer had four points, one assist and a key momentum block at the end of the half, while playing lock-down defense. Singer somewhat made up for the fact that freshman Charlie Moore started the game 0-for-4 from the floor, 0-for-3 from three-point range and turned the ball over twice in the first half.

Despite a statistically dominant first half, on the surface. there were undercurrents that eroded the base upon which Cal built its' 14-point first-half lead.

Bird didn't take his first shot until the seven-minute mark. Moore, Rabb and Grant Mullins had combined to shoot 4-for-14 before intermission. The Bears had allowed six points off of six turnovers. Oregon had yet to see any contributions from its bench. In short, there was a shoe hanging somewhere in the rafters of Haas Pavilion, and it was poised to drop.

With 18:42 to go in the second half, Brooks stepped up and hit a three from the top of the arc, the Ducks' first from long distance. The 30-16 halftime gap closed to 32-19.

But instead of letting the Ducks back in right away, as Cal did after pulling out to a 19-7 lead against Stanford last week, the Bears kept pace. Rabb responded to Brooks's three with one of his own, the second big momentum play he made in a span of five minutes of game time.

With 2:15 to go before halftime, Rabb nearly lost the ball on a rebound between the top of the key and the three-point line, but he held on to it, arms outstretched, pulled the ball away from Bell and found Mullins for the open look as Bell stumbled.

But, Rabb couldn't hold in the second half, as the Ducks began to find their feet. Rabb was pressed off an in-bound with 14:23 to go in the second half, turning the ball over out of a double team on his own baseline. That led to the second Christopher Boucher two-handed jam in under 30 seconds, and the lead slipped to nine.

"I thought we broke down, defensively, in the second half," said Martin. "Key turnovers for us changed the game. I think Charlie turned the ball over, and Ivan might have [against the press]. I don't think it was really a factor; they just turned the heat up. Defensively, against the ball screen, I think that was the bigger issue."

Rabb then fouled Boucher beyond the arc, and Boucher hit two of three from the line. Boucher scored seven points in 59 seconds. Oregon kept pressing, kept making Cal expend energy to keep the lead at nine. Rabb's task was particularly arduous, guarding Brooks all night.

"I think it wasted a few of our timeouts, not sure if we had any turnovers in it," Mullins said. "I wouldn't say it affected us hugely. We knew they were going to press us from the last game, so I thought we handled it pretty well. I thought we could have attacked it a little bit more, but for the most part, I thought we did alright."

Rabb nearly turned the ball over with 10:12 left in the second half, as Moore passed to him up the sideline against the press. Rabb gathered, as the Bears pulled into a half-court set, where Moore found Kameron Rooks on the left block for the kiss off the glass, plus the and-one. That and-one came thanks to Brooks's fourth foul.

Then, a Mullins steal leading to a Bird dunk at 9:46 brought a Haas Pavilion crowd of 10,759 to its feet, giving Cal a 49-35 lead.

After Tyler Dorsey -- who finished with five points, four rebounds and two steals -- narrowed the lead to eight with a pair of free throws, thanks to Mullins's fourth foul, Bird hit a hop-step floater in the lane to get the lead back up to 10 with 7:54 to go. For the next 4:11, though, the Bears didn't make a single field goal, and turned the ball over three straight possessions.

"We blew our assignments on the ball screens, Boucher had open shots, I think they had two open threes in that left corner, so really just breakdowns on our part, giving those guys momentum," Martin said. "A few turnovers for us changed the game."

Thanks to back-to-back Ennis lay-ins, the Ducks worked the lead down to five with under five minutes to go. Ennis, though, was a bit too aggressive closing out on Mullins in the left corner, earning his first foul and sending Mullins to the line. The graduate transfer from Columbia hit all three from the charity stripe, and then Moore then hit a pair of his own. Boucher, though, came back with a corner three to once again squeeze the gap to 59-52.

Boucher finished the night 6-of-12 for 18 points -- all in the second half, coming off the bench -- with five rebounds and a block.

Ennis then hit a corner three from the left, Oregon's fifth of the half. The Ducks had gone 1-for-11 from beyond the arc to start, but hit five of their next nine, including a Payton Pritchard triple off a picked pass from Dorsey, shrinking the lead to 59-58 with three minutes to go. 

With 2:05 left, Singer lazily lofted a pass to Moore on the perimeter. Ennis pounced, firing out to intercept the ball, leading to an Oregon run-out and a Boucher lay-in, giving the Ducks their first lead of the night with 1:44 to go.

Bird was one of four Bears in double figures. He shot 8-of-13 (but missed his last three shots) for a team-high 20 points, and went 4-of-7 from three-point land, while pulling down nine rebounds. Rabb snatched his 15th double-double with a largely-quiet 10-point, 12-rebound effort, punctuated by three turnovers, tried with Moore and Singer for the most on the night. Rooks went 4-of-4 for 10 points, with just five rebounds. Mullins had 11, on 3-of-8 shooting with four assists, tied with Moore for the team lead. Top Stories