It would have been easy for the coaching staff to take the obvious excuse, to begin planning for next season.
Instead, they came home to Haas and played Oregon and Oregon State in a pair of games that demonstrated the drama and beauty of college basketball at its best. On Saturday, they completed a sweep of the Oregon schools by apparently winning the game not once, but twice.
Due to a bizarre turn of events, what looked like a victory in regulation instead became an overtime contest. Cal finally prevailed 84-80, tallying their third overtime victory in three tries this season. The game also marked Coach Ben Braun's 200th career win while guiding the Blue and Gold.
The game started slowly. OSU didn't hit their first bucket until the 15:05 mark, but even so just trailed by 4-3 after Sasha Cuic's long-range jumper. The game stayed close for the remainder of the first half. Beavers junior point guard Wesley Washington collected his third foul at the 8:25 mark and rarely played again in the first half.
The lead changed hands five times, and there were two ties. 6'6" swingman Jack McGillis, a sophomore out of Hellsgate High School in Missoula, Montana, came off the bench and lit up Cal for 10 points in the first half, and tied for game-high honors with 24 when the smoke (and disorder) had finally cleared.
McGillis hit a long three with 2:25 left in the half, and the Golden Bears trailed 25-19. It was to be their largest deficit of the day. Theo Robertson, Omar Wilkes and Ryan Anderson knocked down five of six free throw attempts in the next minute, and after a Marcel Jones basket, freshman Jerome Randle burst through the entire Beaver squad (for the third time in the half) and kissed one off the glass to end the half 27-26 in favor of OSU.
"During the first half," said Braun, "we weren't really attacking inside, passing or dribbling. I told our guys we've got to be more aggressive, and we were, by moving the ball, spreading the floor and attacking the post. We got the ball to the rim a lot more in the second half."
Actually, Cal's biggest first half problem was rebounding the basketball. OSU's tall front line dominated the boards - the Beavers had as many offensive rebounds as the Bears did total boards - eight. OSU had 20 total rebounds at the break. The second half split was more to Cal's favor, winding up 21-19 in the Beavers favor.
At the half, Patrick Christopher's line read 1-of-4 shooting, two points, one rebound.
After the intermission, a whole different player took the court. Christopher played 22 of the final 25 minutes, and was 9-of-12 from the floor, 1-of-2 from long range and 3-of-5 from the line, pouring through 22 points and corralling 10 rebounds.
Both constituted career highs for the young player, whose 24 points tied for game-high honors. "Coming into the game," said OSU coach Jay John, "Christopher was the X-factor. Freshmen are X-factors. Patrick played so well on Thursday, and we didn't know how he was going to be, but we knew he was going to feel good about himself.
|AP Photo/Ben Margot
Marcel Jones driving on Theo Robertson
"Patrick was far more comfortable on the court (at Haas) than he was at our place, and that makes sense."
Christopher wasn't without help out there, though. Robertson and Ubaka each chipped in 21 points, the first game all season Cal has had three players break the 20-point barrier. Ryan Anderson, never in sync, suffered his worst game as a Golden Bear, posting just six points and five boards before fouling out after playing just 25 minutes.
Asked to describe the game, OSU guard Angelo Tsagarakis said, "(It was) guard dominated - Cal has a special game plan, four perimeter shooters and their big can step out and shoot threes. They spread the floor."
Cal failed to score on the first possession of the second half, and Roeland Schaftenaar, a 6'11" freshman out of the Netherlands, converted two free throws with the clock at 19:19.
Over the next 6:15, Cal took complete control of the game; indeed it looked, after their 16-1 run, as though the game was a sure Cal win. With 12:45 left to play, Robertson hit Cal's third three-ball of the run to put the lead at 45-32.
OSU, 10-17 on the year but just 2-12 in the Pac-10, could have easily folded their tent and gone home. Losses have stacked up in Corvallis this season, and no one would have blamed them.
No one but Coach John. Instead, he told them to dig down and get back into the game. John is not a screamer - he is animated on the court, but rarely seems to raise his voice to his players during the game. Over the next 2:20, OSU went on a 10-2 run of their own, then extended it to 15-5, closing to within two points at 52-50 with 8:30 to play.
Robertson built the lead back to six with a basket and pair of free throws, but McGillis drained a pair of treys sandwiched around a Kyle Jeffers layup, and the Beavers' comeback was complete. In just under six minutes they had outscored Cal 23-9 and erased a 13-point deficit.
"We kept matching each other's punches," McGillis said. "They went on a run, we went on a run. It was a battle to the end."
Christopher drained a pair of shots; Jeffers tied the game at four minutes, 60-all. Christopher hit a jumper to regain the lead, but with 2:34 left in the game, Anderson fouled out and Taylor Harrison took his place in the post.
|AP Photo/Ben Margot
Ben Braun coaching
Jeffers missed the front of a one-and-one; Cal lost a held ball because the possession arrow was in the Beavers' favor. Jeffers then committed an offensive foul on a drive. On the subsequent possession, Ubaka put up a runner and got the roll. With a 64-60 lead, when Omar Wilkes stole the ball at 1:25, the game appeared to be in hand.
Not so fast.
Seth Tarver blocked a Wilkes three from the right baseline, a flying block that was all ball, right at the one-minute mark. Harrison was fouled with 46 ticks remaining, and missed the front end of the one-and-one. OSU brought the ball down court and missed a shot; in the ensuing scramble for the ball, Cuic grabbed the loose rock and found Schaftenaar all alone in the left corner for an easy three. At 64-63, Braun called a time out and put in his four-guard lineup.
Robertson was fouled on the inbounds play and swished both free throws at 28.4 on the clock. The lead was again three.
Schaftenaar hit a pair of free throws (both teams in the bonus by this point) at 20.2 seconds. On the inbounds pass, Theo released to the front court, Ubaka hit him in full stride with a 60-foot rainbow from the end line. McGillis had no choice but to foul Robertson, and when the officials signaled an intentional foul, meaning free throws AND possession, it looked like the game was over. Robertson bounced both free throws all the way around the rim, but got the roll on both. On the inbound play, Ubaka was fouled and hit both charity tosses, putting the lead at 70-65 with 17.3 seconds remaining.
OSU conserved time by rolling the inbounds pass to mid court before touching it; a quick pass to Cuic, open on the right wing, produced a 3-ball. 70-68 Cal with 10.8 seconds remaining.
Theo was fouled on the inbounds play but hit only the second free throw. OSU had to hit a three, and they had 10 seconds to do it.
Again, they rolled the inbounds pass through the back court. This time, Tarver walked alongside the rolling ball; the scoreboard timer thought Tarver touched the ball and started the clock.
OSU's coaches knew better.
So did Ayinde Ubaka.
"I knew the clock started early," the senior said, "and I knew Tsagarakis was going to nail it if he got a look."
Before Tsagarakis was to get his chance, however, 8,009 fans were to see what they thought was the end of the game. OSU brought the ball into the front court against pressure by the Bears. Marcel Jones launched a wild, 25-foot three that Patrick Christopher partially blocked. Alex Pribble caught the shot under the basket, time expired, the 71-68 final was announced, the band played, and fans began to leave.
The OSU coaches asked the officials to look at the replay. The "bug" in the corner of the screen, showing the clock, clearly showed it started early.
The replay showed one other critical piece of information. When Pribble came down with the ball and the horn sounded, his back heel came down on the out-of-bounds line.
That meant that, after the refs put 2.3 seconds back on the clock, the ball belonged to OSU on the turnover.
The inbounds play was defended well, and the ball poked out of bounds. Just 1.4 seconds were left - and 1.2 seconds is the least amount of time in which a player can catch and shoot a basketball.
As Ubaka said, Tsagarakis was going to nail it if he got a look. He got one. Not a good one, contested, but he calmly launched a 22-foot shot from the left wing as time expired, and it found nothing but the bottom of the net.
Cal was going to have to win this game again. Without Ryan Anderson, and without Eric Vierneisel who rolled his ankle late in the half.
|AP Photo/Ben Margot
Taylor Harrison v Roeland Schaftnaar
"We were going to finish this game, no matter how many overtimes it took," insisted Ubaka.
"I didn't realize that there was a clock error," Braun said. "If there's a clock error, then you have to make an adjustment. It's pretty unique to shake hands with players and wish them well and then go back and regroup to beat them again.
"We'd been in the situation earlier this year. We'd already been there after a player hit a tough shot. You could still see the leadership, there was a lot of determination in that huddle."
The overtime started well for the Bears as OSU's Marcel Jones controlled the tip and flipped it the wrong direction. Ubaka took the tap in stride and floated an uncontested layup in to give Cal a lead it never again relinquished.
Christopher put in the points, scoring seven of Cal's 13 in OT, with Ubaka adding four more. "Ayinde had the team on his back and in his palm, like a senior should," coach John said post-game. "I think Ben's doing his best job of coaching ever at Cal."
The Bears built a 6-point lead at 77-71 before Cuic hit a jumper at 2:20 to cut the lead to four. When Tsagarakis hit another long jumper at 1:38 to cut it to 78-75, John asked again for a replay examination, thinking the shot was a three and not a two as credited.
His eyes had played tricks on him. The shot was counted as two points, and John lost his only timeout allotted in OT. Christopher hit another basket, Tarver converted a three-point play, and it was 81-78 with 20 seconds remaining. Ubaka hit one of two free throws, Jones converted both of his, and with 10 seconds left in overtime it was again a two-point game at 82-80.
The inbounds pass went to the X-factor, Christopher. He calmly proceeded to X-out the Beavers' last hope, banging home a pair of charity tosses that kissed every part of the rim on their way down. Just to increase the drama, of course.
Tsagarakis illuminated OSU's courage when he spoke about their effort after the game. "It hurts your heart more than makes you tired. We weren't tired in the overtime. We had the momentum, but they made the free throws. Their guards played awesome all game and we paid for it. It doesn't matter how bad our record is, or how bad the score is, we will not quit. I think we showed character in this game. We put up a fight - we didn't end up victorious, but we tried."
And at the other end of the scorer's table, senior Ayinde Ubaka came up to his head coach and gave him a huge bear hug. Meanwhile, Anderson, who had a rough night, hitting only two of five shots, made sure he hit his biggest target of the night, drenching Braun with the ice-water bucket.
"We were all wet in the locker room - the players sweaty and exhausted, and me, icy and dripping," Braun said with a grin. The locker room was the only place all day that the Golden Bears were all wet.
- Cal is now 6-8 in the Pac-10, still in eighth place. They have not counted themselves out of the Big Dance, however. Just listen to Ubaka:
"We are playing for the post-season. We can still make it. That's our goal, the NCAA tournament. You have to do small things. We have to win the Pac-10 tournament. We want to win every game. We're confident we can play well every game as well as win. Pay attention to small details every single day.
"It's a slap in our face to count us out because we lost a couple of players. We are not playing with chips on our shoulders; we are playing with boulders up there. We just want to win, and we knew all along we were capable of this."
- 49 of OSU's 80 points came from bench players. OSU had 15 second-chance points to Cal's 7, but Cal had 15 points off turnovers to the Beavers' 9.
- OSU has been allowing opponents to shoot 49.4% on the season; Cal shot 54.9% Saturday. Conversely, the Bears have been allowing teams to connect on just 46% of their shots but held OSU to 40.9%, a bit below their season average.
- Cal visits the southern California schools next weekend before hosting the Arizona schools the following one to close out the regular season. As the league stacks up right now, fans can expect to see OSU again in the Thursday session of the Pac-10 tournament. It would be another great contest.
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