LAS VEGAS -- Over the last four years, the amount of ink spilled on ornithological wordplay when it comes to California senior Jabari Bird has, perhaps, been a bit gratuitous. But the arc of Bird's career has been uneven. It's had fits and starts, stumbles and falls, moments of high-flying grace, and others of bitter disappointment.
A former five-star, McDonald's All-American, Bird could not stay healthy. Be it due to ankles, feet, backs or otherwise, he always had one broken wing, and instead of soaring, he fluttered around in circles. Earlier this season, musing on his 1,000th point, he said, "It should be more like 1,200."
Bird came in to Wednesday's first-round Pac-12 Tournament match-up with No. 12-seed Oregon State shooting 28-for-64 (43.8%) from the field in his career against the Beavers, averaging 13 points per game, including two 20-point games.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1760923-pac-12-tourney-pre... While he may have gone just 3-for-13 against Oregon State in the Bears' Senior Night two weeks ago, Bird had his moment on Wednesday against the Beavers, a moment that ended Oregon State's season.
With just over a minute left on Wednesday, freshman point guard Charlie Moore aimlessly dribbled his way in, around and through the Oregon State defense, with the Bears in danger of losing to a team they once beat by 30. Moore, trying to make something happen, unleashed a wild shot off the top of the backboard, turning the ball over -- Cal's 13th. A wild air ball by Kendal Manuel, though, landed right in the hands of Kingsley Okoroh. The 7-foot-2 Bears center heaved the ball up court to Bird, who hammered home a one-handed dunk, and then completed the and-one, giving Cal just enough to get past the Beavers, 67-62.
"That was a great play by King, because he threw the pass to me," Bird said. "I ran out, he made a great play to throw to me, and I finished the play strong. Got a three-point play, so that was cool."
It wasn't the first time Bird had flown in to the rescue.
With 12 minutes to go, Cal and Oregon State were tied, at 39-39. Back-to-back three-pointers, first by Moore and Bird gave the Bears an eight-point lead with 10:33 to go. As the under-12 time out was called. Bird smirked, and gave a small fist pump.
"I mean, it's just me and him having good chemistry on the court," said Bird. "He found me for a good shot and he just hit one, so we were feeling pretty excited about what's happening. That's all. It was just two teammates coming together, celebrating a sequence.
Cal led just 32-29 at the half, with Stephen Domingo tallying more points (7) than Ivan Rabb (2) and Moore (4) combined, and fellow senior Sam Singer contributing two of the Bears' four first-half steals -- both of which led to buckets -- and Bird scoring a game-high eight in the first 20 minutes. Before intermission, Cal scored 13 points off of eight Oregon State turnovers.
The Beavers, though, got those points back from beyond the arc, going 5-of-10 from three-point land, with two of those coming from the surprising Gligorije Rakocevic, who hit a pair of triples at the top of the arc in the first half -- one fewer than the Bears had as a team (3-of-13 in the first half) -- and three on the game. Rakocevic had never taken as many as three in his career, nor made more than one in a single game.
Oregon State guard Stephen Thompson Jr. scored 17 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, but Bird scored 13 of his after intermission, as well, but he was crucial to several momentum swings in the first half.
With 15:45 to go in the first, Cal, having endured a 10-2 opening run by Oregon State, got a poke-away turnover thanks to Singer, and a run-out from Bird, who got the hoop and the harm. A bucket by Singer made it a 9-0 run for the Bears, but Thompson grabbed the lead back with a corner three at 13:57.
"The younger guys haven't been in this situation," Singer said. "It's March, so we know that it's just about surviving and advancing. When we're out there, we've got to bring energy, and the seniors came up with that extra energy. We wanted to set the tone."
Cal was dismal early from beyond the arc, missing its first five, while Rabb, after making his first bucket, missed his next six straight.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1761249-inside-locker-room... A three by Domingo -- his second three in the last five games he's played, and six overall -- with 9:51 to go in the first broke the spell, and a pair of free throw makes a minute later gave the Bears a 20-15 lead. Grant Mullins added another three with 7:57 to go to give Cal its largest lead, 23-17, but a matching trey from Kendal Manuel cut that six-point margin in half.
"I think Stephen is one of the few guys I've been around, whether as a player and a coach, that when he hasn't played, he still comes in ready prepared," said head coach Cuonzo Martin, who did not play Domingo against Colorado in the regular season finale. "He spends a lot of time working on his craft. He doesn't get down on himself, because there are a lot of guys that don't play and you can see it.
"In Stephen's case, you would think he's a starter with his energy and practice. That's what happens. That's how he got in the game, because of his preparation. That's a sign as a program. You always say stay ready. You never know when an opportunity will present itself, and it presented itself and he was ready. Not surprised, because, again, his preparation and his energy has paid off for him in practice, and it carried over into the game."
Domingo scored 10 points, one shy of his season-high.
Oregon State looked to get the upper hand after Drew Eubanks blocked Rabb out for Rakocevic to grab an offensive rebound, but once again, Singer came up big, poking the ball and working the break with Bird for the lay-in, giving Cal a 28-21 lead.
A three by Thompson tied things up coming out of the break, but Rabb, who had found nothing but rim in the first half, took the ball from Moore at the top of the key, split the double, laid the ball in and drew a foul with 18:24 to go. Then, two trips down the court later, Rabb hit a turnaround jumper over Rakocevic with 17:31 to go, giving Cal a four-point lead.
Cal led by as many as seven early in the second half, before two straight buckets by Thompson, including a step-back three, brought the Beavers to within 1 with 14 minutes to go, at 39-38.
As hot as Rabb started the half -- taking advantage of a knee injury to Eubanks, which forced him off the floor wth 16:12 to go -- Rabb began to fade. Taking a pass from Mullins on the right block, Rabb was doubled by Thompson and Jaquori McLaughlin, and could not turn the corner, instead turning the ball over, with 12:38 to go in regulation. By the 11:57 mark, the two teams that had been separated by 30 points were tied, 39-39.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1761238-cal-gets-weight-of... Even the back-to-back threes by Bird and Moore, plus a baseline jumper from Rabb, couldn't completely swing the momentum. The Beavers kept hanging around. Every time Oregon State got close, though, there was Bird. With 6:20 to go, Singer dished a backhanded pass to a slashing Bird on the baseline, who fired the ball out to Okoroh, who in turn found a driving back to Bird for the lay-in with 6:12 to go, putting the Bears up, 53-46.
"We knew it would be tough just finding a way to win, get the rust off us," Martin said. "Felt like we were playing with a 15-pound-weight vest on our backs. We found a way to get the win, and now we can move forward."
Rabb finished with a quiet 12 points and 13 rebounds, his 17th double-double of the season. Domingo -- shooting 20.2% on the year -- finished 3-of-6 from the field and 2-of-5 from three.
"[I was] just was ready for the opportunity, ready to step in," Domingo said. "I've been in the gym. I've put work into my craft, and you have to trust your craft at this time of the year. It's win or go home, so that's all you've got to do is trust your craft."
"We know what he's capable of," Singer said. "We see it every day in practice. I know he's struggled a little bit this year, but we still believe in him."
Cal will next take on No. 4-seed Utah at 2:30 p.m., on Thursday, on the Pac-12 Network. The Bears wilted against the Utes last week in Salt Lake City, losing by 30. Martin said that there was something missing in that game, during a Tuesday teleconference.
"[We'll do the] Same thing we always do, watch film," Martin said. "We'll be fine. It was our worst game all season at Utah. Give them credit. We didn't play well. Sweep it under the rug, watch that film in June and July. But we'll go over tonight what we didn't do. The plus about that, we just didn't play well as a team. It's not as if four or five guys played great, some guys struggled. We didn't play well as a team. Learn from it, move forward. We'll clip the film and go from there. We'll be ready."